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Kai Sotto, Ange Kouame eyed for Gilas duty

With June Mar Fajardo undergoing operation, Gilas Pilipinas will be bringing in familiar faces when it marches to the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers next month.

Gilas head coach Chot Reyes confirmed to Daily Tribune that they are looking at having either Kai Sotto or Ange Kouame fill in the giant void created by the absence of Fajardo.

The 6-foot-9 Fajardo was supposed to patrol the paint for Gilas when they battle Jordan on 7 November in Amman and Saudi Arabia on 10 November in Dammam.

But the San Miguel Beer slotman was accidentally hit by Rain or Shine import Steven Taylor Jr. during their clash in the Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup last week.

With that, he underwent a throat operation, making it impossible to suit up for the Beermen and Gilas Pilipinas in the coming weeks.

“Six weeks because he underwent surgery,” Reyes said during Gilas Pilipinas weekly training at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City.

“He will be out for six weeks so definitely he is not going to make it to the window.”

Without Fajardo, Gilas Pilipinas’ naturalized player in 6-foot-11 Kouame is being eyed as replacement while 7-foot-3 Sotto is also being considered despite campaigning for Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League in Australia.

Reyes, however, has yet to formalize the switch.

“Kouame is still not in 100 percent recovering from an injury (meniscal sprain),” Reyes added.

“He’s in practice just to observe because he wants to know what’s going on.”

Composed of players from San Miguel, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and TNT Tropang Giga with some amateur stars and Japanese B. League standouts, the Gilas pool went on a 45-minute training and worked on the offensive sets it will be using against Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

They, however, were not able to do some scrimmages as they only have nine healthy bodies in the training session.

Aside from Kouame, the nine players who actively participated were Japeth Aguilar, Jamie Malonzo and Justin Brownlee of Ginebra, Poy Erram, Calvin Oftana and Roger Pogoy of TNT, Arvin Tolentino of NorthPort, William Navarro and the only collegiate player, Kevin Quiambao of De La Salle University.

Fellow collegiate players Carl Tamayo of University of the Philippines and Francis Lopez of Ateneo were not able to join the training as well due to conflict in the schedule while Scottie Thompson and CJ Perez also skipped the Monday session.

Thompson is still recovering from his calf injury while Perez just came off from a hard game the previous night.

Reyes said the training team remains fluid and can be changed anytime.

“There are players who have expressed their desire to participate, but of course, it depends on their schedule as well as their mother teams,” Reyes said.

“Then we’ll have players coming from the Japan B. League and they’ll be joining us late this month.”

Reyes added that he is banking on the so-called “FIBA break” to help them confirm the availability of Sotto and stalwarts from the B. League like Dwight Ramos, and Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena and Ray Parks.

“FIBA has a directive from all the leagues around the world that players cannot be prevented from playing for their national teams,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can get Kai (Sotto). Just like in Japan, we know that on a certain date, I think until the 28th of this month, and then Dwight Ramos, Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena and Ray Parks, they’ll be available by then and we’re hoping the same for Kai.”

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