Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin believes the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia will be a good learning experience for Kai Sotto following his senior national team debut in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
The 7-foot-3 Sotto averaged 9.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in his three games at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center in Pampanga, showing flashes of the progress he made since going to the United States two years ago to pursue his NBA dream.
During the Clark window, Gilas won all three games including twice against South Korea to finish the continental qualifiers as the top team in Group A with a 6-0 record.
But the 19-year-old native of Las Pinas City will be in for tougher battles in Belgrade as Gilas faces Serbia and Dominican Republic in Group A.
Sotto will have his hands full facing a Serbian team that remains a tough squad even without Nikola Jokic, who opted to skip the Tokyo Olympics qualifier with players from the European cage scene set to play.
“I think, for all of the players, going up against Serbia and the Dominican Republic is gonna be a big learning experience.,” said Baldwin. “I think it’s like going from high school to a master’s degree or maybe even a doctorate degree as we get ready to play these guys.
“But I think that our job is to compete and try to figure out ways to compete and I know that’s possible. So that’s the attitude that we’re gonna take into the games and I have no doubt that Kai will reflect that attitude.”
The OQT will also be a chance for Sotto to further find his niche in the international scene, particularly the chance to develop other aspects of his game.
But Baldwin has been pleased with how Sotto has been able to blend well with the Gilas system and some of his teammates who were either former teammates or opponents during his high school days at Ateneo.
“Kai is finding his way at this level. He’s a kid who has played a lot of elite basketball and probably most of the elite ball that he has played is over the States where the physicality of the game is very different,” said Baldwin.
“So Kai’s gonna have to learn more of his finesse game and I think he’s trying to go to a more power game, and he’s not a power player yet. But it’s good that he has that mentality, it’s good that he has that toughness and I’m really impressed with how tough he is and I didn’t expect that.
“But you know it’s both individually and systems-wise, he still is learning but what a smart kid. He picks things up really fast. I think we’re all impressed with how quickly he has learned the basics of our system without learning the nuances of it. He’s competitive spirit is really admirable, he fits the team extremely well, he enjoys being with us.”