Kai Sotto has been a dominant force for Batang Gilas and the Ateneo Blue Eaglets in the UAAP. His size and stellar play has even attracted scouts from teams abroad.
Sotto is definitely a cut above the rest. That's why it didn't come as a surprise when Gilas Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao named him to the 20-man pool for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
"I'm really happy because this is a dream come true for me. Even before coach Yeng told me to practice with the team, I was shocked. So when I heard I was in the pool, I couldn't help but be happy," Sotto said in Filipino.
Guiao said he thought it was maybe time for the 16-year-old basketball prodigy to compete on another level where the competition is tougher.
"With Kai we have nothing to lose, we have everything to gain. I'd like to see him play against the big boys and be able to accelerate his development," he said.
"I think Kai is our future, and we're just trying to make use of the opportunity for him to be developed and be able to upgrade the competition he's been playing in because he's too dominant in high school and under-18. So now maybe it's time for him to try the big boys."
While he's the youngest in the pool, the son of former PBA player Ervin is also the tallest. In fact, he is a shade above Ginebra 7-foot behemoth Greg Slaughter who said he is thrilled to play alongside the basketball prodigy.
"It's great. The earlier the better for him. There's a lot of guys willing to help him along the way, he's got a really promising future, and I'm excited to practice with him," he said.
Sotto is just happy to be in the same pool as reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo and Slaughter.
"It's an honor to practice with them. I will really learn a lot from these players because we can see in the PBA, people really look up to them," he said.
Although he's the youngest, Guiao is not ruling out the possibility of Sotto making the final 12 for the qualifiers where the team will take on Kazakhstan and Iran.
"And who knows? He might surprise us and make the final 12," Guiao said.
Gilas battles Kazakhstan on November 30 and Iran three days later at the Mall of Asia Arena.