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Sotto thrilled to be back

Kai Sotto is finally home, ready to lead Gilas Pilipinas to its bid for redemption in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

Sotto, who arrived via Qantas Airways from Sydney around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, said he is thrilled to be back to represent the country against Lebanon on 25 August in Beirut and Saudi Arabia on 29 August in Pasay City.

The 7-foot-3 Sotto, who is being groomed to be the country’s first homegrown player to see action in the National Basketball Association, is set to make his first training with Gilas Pilipinas Friday night at the Meralco Gym.

Also joining the squad will be NBA standout Jordan Clarkson, who boarded a Philippine Airlines Flight 113 in Los Angeles bound for Manila late Thursday. He arrived in Manila late Friday.

But before taking an eight-hour flight to his hometown, Sotto expressed his excitement to man the middle for the Filipinos, who are nursing bruised egos after suffering a string of setbacks in the international stage.

“Yeah for sure. It’s always a great feeling to go back home,” Sotto said in a report by his Australian club, Adelaide 36ers, in its official website.

“The fact that I am playing for my country is one of the best feelings and it’s a dream come true to step out on the court in that Philippine jersey.

Representing the country is nothing new for Sotto.

In fact, he has been donning the national since his high school days at Ateneo de Manila University until he flew to the United States to chase his NBA dream.

Although he was already with an NBA G League team, he still played for Gilas in the Doha window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, something that greatly hurt his NBA chances.

He tried to revive his NBA dream by playing in the National Basketball League in Australia, which is the same path taken by NBA standouts LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton.

Again, he fell short and went undrafted in the NBA Draft last June.

With that, Sotto is tipped to play in the Asian Qualifiers with fire in his eyes not just to pump life into the flickering Gilas Pilipinas program, but also to prove that he has what it takes to play in the NBA.

“Every game you play as a competitor, you try to win and that’s the goal for the next two games,” said Sotto, looking forward to shock the powerhouse Lebanon side bannered by naturalized player Jonathan Arledge, Ali Haidar and FIBA Asia Cup Most Valuable Player Wael Arakji.

“This will be a very big challenge, especially Lebanon. They showed how good they are there (FIBA Asia Cup), but let’s hope we change that narrative this time around.”

Sotto added that he is looking forward to conniving with Clarkson and his former Gilas teammates like Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena, Dwight Ramos, Carl Tamayo and LeBron Lopez.

The addition of Philippine Basketball Association stars like Scottie Thompson, Chris Newsome and Robert Bolick will also be a massive boost to their depth and firepower.

“We have some pretty good players who are going to suit up and a good system so as long as we have a good preparation, I think we will play good and get those two wins,” he said.

“That will be exciting. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

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