Gilas Pilipinas steps onto the Fiba Asia Cup Qualifiers at Angeles University Foundation on Wednesday night, holding reminders of the past in one hand and building blocks in the other.
The Nationals take on South Korea at 6 p.m., playing a side that has been a source of torment in the past, but also some flashes of bliss, especially in games played here.
Spearheading the charge are the 7-foot-3 teen Kai Sotto (See related story on this page) and the 6-foot-10 newly-minted Filipino Ange Kouame, the cornerstones of a towering frontline the national program has never enjoyed in previous campaigns.
The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas is taking a risk at fielding Sotto, who was only able to log at least two days worth of practices with the Gilas pool.
But no less than Tab Baldwin, the brains behind the program that is setting its sights on the 2023 World Cup and the squad’s comebacking coach, said Sotto is more than ready for action.
“Naturally, we were worried about how much of [his earlier training with us] will stay with him but the coaching staff was pleased to find out that he has great retention of information,” said Baldwin.
“There is a solid foundation of knowledge from his past experience with us that helped him process the new information we introduced since then,” Baldwin added.
Sotto, for his part, is not one to make a mountain out of a molehill, even saying that if there’s anything he is confident about, it’s him being soaking things up at a rapid pace.
“I don’t really find anything hard to get or to learn. I think that’s one of my strengths is that I’m a fast learner and I’m very fast to adjust,” he said on Monday.
“There will be parts in the game that we will only use systems that we have been able to indoctrinate him into, but the coaching staff believes that the positives gained by his inclusion will far outweigh the negatives. We think he’s ready and he deserves it,” said Baldwin, who will parade a youthful contingent against an equally young Korean side.
Gilas is aiming for that one win needed to clinch a berth in the Asian championship, which is scheduled in Indonesia this August. But this week’s campaign is also a chance to future-proof the national cage program progress as it treks toward the 2023 World Cup.
Leading South Korea, who also remains unbeaten in Pool A, are Lee Dae-sung and naturalized player Ra Gun-a—formerly Ricardo Ratliffe—who knows a thing or two about the Philippines, including Kouame.
“I played against him (Kouame) in the Jones Cup,” said Ra, once an import who served the Magnolia franchise in the Philippine Basketball Association. INQ
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