FIBA: Ball in Kai Sotto's court when it comes to Gilas, says Baldwin

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2020 05:17 PM

FIBA: Ball in Kai Sotto's court when it comes to Gilas, says Baldwin 1
Kai Sotto during the 2019 FIBA Under-19 World Cup. 

MANILA, Philippines -- Kai Sotto will always be welcome to play for Gilas Pilipinas but that decision rests entirely on the shoulders of the towering Filipino teenager, according to program director Tab Baldwin. 

Sotto has represented the Philippines in the youth level and shone against tough competition in his age group when he led the Gilas Youth team in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup last year. 

In May 2020, he announced that he will forego the collegiate route and instead play in the NBA G-League as part of Team Ignite. There, he is expected to receive world-class training both on and off the court to prepare for a possible career in the NBA. 

That goal of making it to the best league in the world is what may keep Sotto from playing for the Philippines in the future, according to Baldwin.

"I think that issue is in Kai's court," Baldwin said on "Coaches Unfiltered," when asked if Sotto can play for Gilas in the next window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers, set for February next year.

"Obviously, we welcome Kai and AJ (Edu) anytime they're available. We look forward to them being with the team as much as possible," said Baldwin. "But that decision is, I think, with Kai and his team of people, and where they see Gilas and his development, and how much they see Gilas as an endgame for them." 

It's possible, Baldwin noted, that the NBA is "the only endgame that they (Sotto and his team) are pursuing." 

"Then everything becomes subservient to that," he pointed out.

Sotto has always stressed that he aims to represent the Philippines when he plays in the G-League, and in the future, in the NBA. He also made it clear that he is always willing to play for Gilas Pilipinas.

But during an interview in May, Sotto already acknowledged that his responsibilities in the G-League may be in conflict with the schedule of the national team.

"Depende pa rin sa schedule and sa mga magiging plans ko sa G League. It depends," Sotto said at the time.

"We would love Gilas to be a primary endgame for Kai," said Baldwin. "And I remember talking with Kai, and he always said that he loves to represent his country." 

"So hopefully, it's going to happen, and hopefully it's going to happen more often than not," he added.

Baldwin said it is understandable if Sotto is torn between his desire to represent the country and his dream of reaching the NBA. It's a situation that would not be unique to the Filipino teenager.

"We just live in a world today where there are tug of wars going on for many players," he explained.

"These players, on the one hand, I feel sorry for them that they have the scenarios (going) on in their lives. But on the other hand, you have to say what they've done is they created more options for themselves professionally," Baldwin added.

"That's a positive for their lives and their families."

Even if he does not get to play in the upcoming qualifying window, Sotto remains a big part of the plans of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) when it comes to the future of Gilas Pilipinas. He is expected to be part of the team that will represent the Philippines in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, which the country will co-host together with Indonesia and Japan. 

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