If Gilas Pilipinas assistant coach Tim Cone will have it his way, he wants Kai Sotto to be part of the delegation that left for Estonia on Thursday evening to train for the FIBA Basketball World Cup that the country will host from 25 August to 10 September.
Cone, the winningest coach in Philippine Basketball Association, said the presence of the 7-foot-2 Sotto in their European camp would have been a big boost to the Gilas squad that is missing several key players due to various reasons.
Naturalized players Jordan Clarkson, Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame were not part of the trip while Calvin Oftana, Roger Pogoy, Ray Parks and Jordan Heading begged off as they are still nursing injuries.
Clarkson has yet to report for duty as he is still in the middle of his contract negotiation with the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association while Brownlee underwent a “non-basketball procedure” in the United States and Kouame will attend his college graduation.
Sotto, for his part, skipped the European training as he is busy chasing a roster spot in the NBA Summer League.
“I just wish Kai Sotto is here with us. He’s the big difference,” said Cone, extending his gratitude to the players who sacrificed their time and effort just to prepare for the prestigious 32-nation tournament.
“But the good news is that Justin (Brownlee) is going to be there and meet us there. And obviously, the guys who are supposed to be in the camp, eventually made it. We’re complete. We just missed a couple of guys, Roger (Pogoy), Bobby Ray (Parks), those guys. But by large, we’ve got a big portion of the pool, but I think Kai is the key guy.”
The European trip, which will take Gilas to Estonia and Lithuania, will be the second leg of their preparation for the World Cup.
They kicked off their campaign with pre-camp meeting at the Meralco Gym in Pasig City before holding a series of closed-door training at the Inspire Sports Academy in Laguna.
Now, the real work begins and Cone is looking forward to seeing Gilas collide against elite European teams from Estonia, Lithuania, Finland and Latvia.
“I’m paid to do this. These are exciting times ahead of us. It’s a special thing, trying to get the guys together and just every moment is special,” said Cone, one of the assistants of Gilas coach Chot Reyes.
“It’s really a great thing to be a part of. We’re just trying to focus on the day-to-day, keep building the camaraderie. We’re not gonna be great right now. You don’t expect us to be great right now. But we really expect to keep moving forward and hopefully, by World Cup time, we will be great.”
The aspirants who will embark in the European training include PBA players June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar, Scottie Thompson, Jamie Malonzo, CJ Perez, Poy Erram and Chris Newsome.
- League stars Dwight Ramos, brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, Korean Basketball League stalwart Rhenz Abando and Filipino-Cypriot AJ Edu complete the training squad.
Reyes was impressed with the commitment shown by the aspirants.
“I was impressed and saw the commitment of those who really want to be in the team,” wrote Reyes in a Viber message to Daily Tribune.