CLARK, PAMPANGA -- Ever since Kai Sotto arrived in the Philippines two weeks ago, many wondered whether this will finally be the time he suits up for Gilas Pilipinas Men.
Sotto was supposed to join the team for in February for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in Qatar, but the bubble was canceled duet to increasing rates of COVID-19 in the country.
He returned to the United States where he continued to train after not being able to rejoin NBA G-League's Ignite. In April, Sotto signed a multi-year deal with the Adelaide 36ers of Australia's National Basketball League. With no other commitments, Sotto became available to join Gilas Pilipinas Men.
"[Practice] has been really, really good. The guys in this team are fun guys to be with on and off the court. For me, it's easy to adjust because I've met with many of them before. Just to see everybody now in the men's national team is just a really good feeling para for me."
Ever since Filipino basketball fans learned about Sotto, they've been keenly waiting updates about his growth. His height has been a constant discussion but the update from Sotto himself is that there's nothing new.
"I'm still 7-foot-3 even though some people are saying that I'm 7-foot-4," he said. "... I'm on a diet and my body fat percentage is much lower now. Before it was 13% now it's down to 6.9%. I'm 235 pounds right now and I think I'm gaining good weight."
When Sotto returned, the worry was not if he's good enough to play but whether he would be able to learn quickly Gilas Coach Tab Baldwin's system.
"For me, I don't really find anything hard to learn. I think that's one of my strengths," Sotto said. "I'm a fast learner and fast to adjust. It's been easier since Coach Sandy [Arespacochaga] has been on my side in the practices, helping me and telling me what I should or should not do. It's been really good."
Like many supporters, Sotto is excited about the team's future as it amasses tall and talented players.
"It's exciting just to imagine that I can share the court with [Ange Kouame]. Besides Ange, there are really good players out there in Geo Chiu and Carl Tamayo. There's AJ Edu also who is not here but I'm excited to play with him again. So it's just there's really a lot of good talent in this team," he said.
Sotto added that he's been getting good guidance from the most senior of the centers in the squad.
"Isaac Go has been a good teammate, a good friend, and a good captain. He is a really good leader that leads by example. He's not really the most talkative but when he talks, it really means something. So, he's a really good teammate and I'm lucky to be on the same team with Isaac Go," Sotto added.
With only two days before the team plays South Korea, the expectations are high for Sotto and the rest of the squad. But as Baldwin has hedged, there will be a lot of rough spots for this young team.
Many of them have not played since November and the rest have not played an official game for the entire pandemic. These next few games will only be the start of a very long process for Sotto.