In a country like the Philippines where the average height of men is no taller than 5-foot-4, towering basketball players come few and far between.
So, it should come as no surprise that even the Philippine men's national basketball team head coach Jong Uichico, who has been in the local basketball scene for almost four decades, considers the presence of Kai Sotto and Angelo Kouame in Gilas Pilipinas a rarity.
“Bihira nangyayari sa Philippine basketball na may dalawang seven-footer in one team. Hindi palagi nangyayari ‘yun," Uichico said of the 7-foot-3 Sotto and 6-foot-11 Kouame in Bull by the Horn.
(Translation: It is a rare occurrence in Philippine basketball to have two seven-footer in one team. It does not often happen.)
True enough, it has been quite some time since the Nationals had big men as tall as the two promising cagers. In retrospect, Marcus Douthit and Andray Blatche, who measure up to 6'10 and 6'11, respectively, would be the most recent ones.
However, there is still no assurance whether the Sotto-Kouame frontcourt would be deployed come the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and the Belgrade Olympic Qualifying Tournament this June. The reason for this is because Sotto has yet to clear quarantine protocols after arriving in the country last May 31, let alone join Gilas in practice.
“Kai is serving his quarantine protocols. Siyempre, inaasam natin na makakalaro siya (Of course, what we are aiming is for him to play), but it is not under our control. Having two seven-footers is a luxury and sometimes a necessity, especially tayo (us). Maliliit tayo, (We are short.),” Uichico said.
“But we have to consider the adjustment because he just arrived. ‘Yung adaptation niya sa (His adaptation to the) system will always be a question. But I do not doubt ‘yung (the) comprehension ng (of his) mind niya. Last time he was here, he was able to pick up quickly, but another question is ‘yung (the) chemistry. We can only know first-hand ‘pag (if he is) physically present na siya sa (in) practices.”
Should the Filipino teen sensation fail to suit up for Gilas in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers because of system integration concerns, there is a better chance that he will receive the green light once the OQT swings into action from June 29 to July 4.
At the end of day, the mere fact that Sotto and Kouame are bound to share the court as part of Gilas Pilipinas is already a welcome development in itself.
“Even if they do not play together, magiging maganda yung palitan nila (the exchange will be great). It will be a luxury if we have two seven-footers in our lineup whether if it’s for the Asia Cup Qualifiers or the OQT," said Uichico.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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