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Kai Sotto joins Clarkson, Gilas for FIBA qualifiers fourth window

Kai Sotto will be coming home to form an explosive tandem with National Basketball Association (NBA) star Jordan Clarkson for Gilas Pilipinas in the fourth window of FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) broke the news, saying that the 7-foot-3 former Ateneo star will be coming home on 18 August to join Gilas in the qualifiers in which they will face dangerous Lebanon in Beirut on 25 August before facing Saudi Arabia at the Mall of Asia Arena on 29 August.

More than that, he will be returning to help the Filipinos redeem their damaged morale after suffering a string of heartbreaks in the international arena, including in the 31st Southeast Asian Games where they lost to Indonesia in their title duel.

“We are glad to have Kai Sotto in the Gilas fold and we thank him for his proactive response to the call to play for flag and country for the August Qualifiers,” said Barrios, also the SBP executive director and former Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner, said in a statement.

Sotto’s inclusion is a major boost to the high-powered pool that the federation is assembling.

Already seeded are Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena, Ray Parks, Kevin Quiambao, Dwight Ramos, Carl Tamayo and LeBron Lopez while the rest of the slots will be filled up by PBA players.

Barrios refused to rattle off the names of the professionals, but sideliners believe that the country’s best and brightest stars like Robert Bolick of NorthPort, June Mar Fajardo and CJ Perez of San Miguel Beer, Scottie Thompson, Japeth Aguilar and LA Tenorio of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, and Jio Jalalon, Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang of Magnolia will make it following the appointment of San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua as Gilas executive adviser.

But the biggest star of the Gilas pool plays away from home.

Clarkson, the shifty swingman of the Utah Jazz who holds a Philippine passport, will serve as the cornerstone of the Gilas squad after agreeing to play as naturalized player for the fourth window of the Asian Qualifiers.

He is tipped to team up with Sotto, forming a dreaded one-two tandem that features the best, most distinguished Filipino players who are seeing action overseas.

“Jordan’s availability for Gilas definitely played a huge role in Kai’s decision to return,” said a long-time basketball observer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“With Jordan agreeing to play, Kai will definitely join since he will learn a thing or two from a legitimate NBA player. We’re excited with this tandem and we hope that it will pave the way for Kai’s entry to the NBA.”

The last time Sotto saw action for Gilas was in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade last year in which he put up steady numbers of nine points and 4.5 rebounds against Serbia and Italy.

Sotto made his senior’s team debut in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers in Clark in June 2021, where he formed a formidable frontcourt duo with naturalized center Ange Kouame and led the youth-laden team to a 6-0 card.

Although their result was impressive, it greatly affected his NBA dream as he passed up a chance to play for Team Ignite in the NBA G-League.

Sotto recently returned to his pro club Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League in Australia with the hopes of delivering an impressive sophomore season that would attract interest from NBA teams.

Barrios said they couldn’t wait to see Sotto in training, which starts on 15 August.

“Kai has expressed his eagerness to join his Gilas teammates for the Qualifier and will arrive in Manila from Australia on Thursday, August 18th,” Barrios said.

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