Kai Sotto garnered good grades from Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin after his solid showing in his first tour of duty for the men's national team in the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.
Baldwin described Sotto as a fast learner after watching the 7-foot-3 youngster quickly take to the system despite only getting to practice with the team less than a week before the tournament proper in Angeles, Pampanga.
"Kai is definitely finding his way at this level," detailed the Gilas mentor after their 82-77 win over Korea to complete a sweep of the qualifiers. "He is still learning, but what a smart kid. He picks things up extremely fast. I think we're all impressed with how quickly he has learned the basics of our system without maybe learning the nuances of it. "
Sotto arrived in the Philippines on May 31 and had to undergo mandatory 10-day quarantine, severely limiting the already shortened training time he had ahead of Gilas' window opener last Wednesday.
The Adelaide 36ers prospect had his minutes managed by Baldwin and his staff in three games, but still flashed tremendous gains from having trained in the U.S. for over a year. In only 18.9 minutes, he averaged 9.0 points on 37.5 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists while showing willingness to find and then absorb contact under the basket.
"His competitive spirit, it's really admirable and he fits into the team extremely well. He enjoys being with us," remarked the tactician.
Baldwin, though, said Sotto would benefit greatly from taking a craftier approach rather than choosing to bully his way inside all the time.
"He's a young kid who hasn't played a lot of elite-level basketball and probably most of the elite ball that he has played has been over in the States where the physicality of the game is very different," he explained. "So Kai's going to have to learn a little bit more about his finesse game. I think that he's trying to go to a 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. I'm really impressed with how tough he is. I didn't expect that," he added.
The 19-year-old is assumed to be a shoo-in for the 12-man Gilas lineup that will take part in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament on June 30 and July 1 in Belgrade, Serbia.
"I think that for all of the players, going up against Serbia and Dominican Republic is going to be a great learning experience. I think it's like going from high school to a master's degree or maybe even a doctorate degree as we go over there and get ready to play these guys," he expressed.
"But I think that our job is to compete and to try and figure out ways to compete. I know that that's possible so that's the attitude we're going to take into the games and I have no doubt that Kai will reflect that attitude."