MANILA, Philippines -- Kai Sotto is confident that he will have no problem fitting in with Gilas Pilipinas should he be called upon to play in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, despite having only had a few practices with the team.
Sotto is with the national team in Clark, Pampanga where they will play the qualifiers, although the Gilas coaching staff is still evaluating his match fitness before deciding whether or not to play him.
"He has not done a lot of basketball in the last few days, and we want to immerse him slowly. We want to make sure that he knows the defensive scheme of things, our concepts on offense, our strategies on our scouting reports and all, and of course, at the top of it is build chemistry," said Ryan Gregorio of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) on Sotto's status.
But the player himself is confident that he will be able to mesh well with his teammates and stick to the system put in place by Tab Baldwin, the Gilas Pilipinas program director who will also be the head coach for the upcoming qualifiers.
"For me, I don't really find anything hard to get or to learn. That's one of my strengths, I'm a really fast learner and very fast to adjust," said Sotto.
"It took me just a couple of days to learn all of Coach Tab's system, plays, defensive schemes and everything," he added.
It greatly helped that coach Sandy Arespacochaga, a part of Baldwin's coaching staff, focused on helping Sotto learn the intricacies of the system. Arespacochaga coached Sotto in the Gilas Pilipinas Youth Team for the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in 2019.
"Coach Sandy is always by my side in practices, helping me and telling me what I should do and what I should not do. It's just been really good," said Sotto.
If Sotto is called up to play in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, it will mark his debut for the senior team after several years of representing the Philippines in youth tournaments.
He joins a youthful Gilas squad that features no professional players, but is brimming with talent and potential. Sotto has previously played with or against many of them during his high school years with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, and is looking forward to taking the court with them officially.
He also has high hopes about his frontcourt partnership with naturalized center Ange Kouame, who is set to debut for the Philippines as well in the Clark games.
"It's been really good. It's been exciting just to imagine na I can share the court with him," said Sotto.
"Other than Ange, there's also a lot of other really good tall players also, Geo Chiu, Carl Tamayo, AJ Edu, who is not yet here, who I'm also very excited to play with again," he added.
"So just a lot of really good young talent in this team."
The Philippines opens its campaign in the third and final FIBA Asia Cup qualifying window Wednesday against rivals South Korea. Gilas plays Indonesia on June 18, and South Korea again on June 20.
After the Asia Cup qualifiers, the team heads to Belgrade, Serbia for the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament that is scheduled from June 29 to July 4.