Kai and the rest of Batang Gilas are making heads turn

There’s a new breed of basketball players coming from this basketball-crazy country.

They are tall, talented, and yes, promising.

Forget some of the miscues and errors in judgment when games were on the line. These kids are a work in progress. No doubt, people across Asia’s basketball circles are beginning to notice. The recent success at the FIBA Asia-Oceania stage where the Batang Gilas U16ers placed not a bad fourth spot to punch a ticket to the World Cup in Argentina in June only goes to show that indeed, this bunch is special.

Sgain, we shouldn’t hurry. These guys are young, very young.

Take Kai Sotto for example. The most recognizeable kid not only in the Philippines’ roster but all the the entire tournament. All of seven-foot-one (2.16 meters) and only 15 years old. He has the moves of Hakeem Olajuwon seldom seen in Asian giants. And that’s not as rare as it can get. Take note, Asians who grow to be seven foot tall are almost as rare as the blue moon.

People at the world’s governing body, FIBA, could only shake their heads watching Kai Sotto so gracefully spin around defenders, sinking skyhooks and slamming home alley-oops. This boy has a very high basketball IQ rarely seen in a big man. And his agility? You wouldn’t think he’s a seven-footer.

Fiba.com wrote in a postscript to the Fiba Asia U16 tournament on its social media page:

“As good as Australia are, though, the tournament’s best player did not play for them. By the competition’s end, the player with the highest efficiency rating was the Philippines’ own celebrated center Kai Sotto. The 7ft 1in (2.16m) Filipino giant may have fallen short of carrying the Philippines to a podium finish, but he certainly caught the attention of everyone who saw him play after norming 16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. It’s rare for a 15-year-old Asian to be his size, but it’s even rarer for someone his size to have the skills he has shown this past week. If his growth, development and maturity don’t get derailed, Kai could be Asia’s next Yao Ming.”

But it wasn’t just Kai Sotto who turned heads.

The rest of the Batang Gilas squad did. Or shall we say, the team collectively did.

Here’s what Fiba.com said:

“Speaking of changing play styles, the Philippines looked like a different animal in this tournament. In past U16 competitions, the Filipinos would be powered by their guards and wingmen, but this time around it was crystal clear that their offense revolved around their prized center Kai Sotto and even other giants like 6ft 7in (2.00m) Raven Cortez and 6ft 8in (2.03m) Geo Chiu. Their sets were predicated on giving their bigs the chance to get the ball in the low block, which is something we’ve never seen before from them. It had mixed results, to be quite honest, but at the end of the day, they still qualified for #FIBAU17.”

These boys are yet to peak and their growth potentials are far from over. Kai Sotto can be a 7-5 center like Yao Ming. Cortez and Chiu can both be seven-footers as well. Triple Towers? That’s not far-fetched. And then there are the guards and the wingmen like Rence Keith Padrigao, Terrence John Fortea and McCalude Guadana.

The future of Philippine basketball looks bright.