Kai Sotto brought the house down when he nearly posterized Lebanese big man Ater James Majok in his debut with the Gilas Pilipinas' seniors team Sunday.
The 16-year-old sensation missed the national team's previous tune-up games due to school work, but he finally got to see action in the final match heading into the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
As soon as the 7-foot-2 Sotto entered the court to start the second half, the fans inside the jam-packed Meralco Gym erupted into cheers. Imagine the chaos that ensued when he courageously attempted a two-handed jam over the 6-foot-11 Majok late in the third period.
Before trooping to the line for his foul shots, Sotto received high fives and praises not only from his teammates but also from Majok himself.
"He told me, 'That was a good one!'" shared Sotto. "Too bad because that was my chance, I nearly dunked on him."
Despite playing against older players, the teen center stood his ground. Majok even had to tell him to take it easy while they were guarding each other.
"We all know that he does it all for his team," Sotto said about Majok. "As much as possible, even if I'm not the star of my team, I did my best to stop him. I back-stopped and pushed him. He told me, 'Easy young fella.'"
It was a surreal experience for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets' standout. He's been a national team mainstay in the juniors level, but this was the first time that he got a feel of the international brand of play in the seniors division.
"I was really happy that I got the opportunity to play. I knew that I only have minimal minutes that's why I poured it on," he said. "If you're just 16 years old and then you play with and against these players, I couldn't think of anything other than excitement. Maybe others would get nervous but for me, I was just really excited. I just thought about what I'm going to do on the court."
Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao was impressed with the performance of Sotto, who finished with two points in over five minutes of play in the Philippines' 70-61 loss to Lebanon.
"He actually tried to dunk on the big man of the other team, so he's a fighter and he doesn't get intimidated," said Guiao. "The only thing missing from him is the maturity of his body. Maybe when his body develops a little bit more in one or two years, he will develop the strength together with the quickness."
"He's not slow but he can still get quicker and he can still be stronger. His height is already okay. I actually don't want him to get taller, I just want him to get wider," Guiao added.
Sotto knows that getting this kind of exposure at a very young age is a great jump-off point for him to improve and reach his potential.
"I need to make my body stronger and faster because I'm not at my peak yet. I still don't have a skill that I'm 100 percent, I still need to work on everything," he said. "When do I start? Do I start when I'm 18? Of course, while I have the time, I'll start now. I'm thankful to coach Yeng because he included me in this pool so that I can test my limits."