Batang Gilas players aren’t PBA superstars nor are they even collegiate standouts. They’re talented for sure, but are still very raw. They’re young, but obviously still lacking in experience. They’re up and coming, but still have a long way to go.
But one thing is for sure, Batang Gilas is the future of Philippine basketball.
On Thursday, the young Philippine squad won the SEABA U-16 Championship by defeating Malaysia. Our U-16 teams have now won the SEABA tourney for the fourth straight time, a testament to the country’s dominance in the region.
Highlighting the 2017 Batang Gilas is a pair of young, rising stars – Kai Sotto and Rence Padrigao. One is a 6-foot-11 center, a mammoth of a teenager, who has garnered the attention of even the best Filipino center of this generation, June Mar Fajardo. The other is a dynamic point guard who has a lethal combination of ball-handling, passing, and court-vision.
Padrigao, who’s nicknamed Forths or Forthsky, is a 15-year-old kid who recently transferred to Ateneo High School from Adamson. He is Batang Gilas’ team captain and has been in a ton of highlights featuring his playmaking abilities.
“Siguro ginawa ko lang po yung right things,” Padrigao said about his performance during the tournament. “Yung mga dating ginagawa ko sa school ko, in-apply ko lang dito sa SEABA—nothing in excess.”
Padrigao averaged 9.0 points, 3.75 rebounds, and 4.75 steals in the SEABA U-16 Championships. He even flirted with a triple-double in the Philippines’ game against Thailand when he posted 13 points, eight rebounds, and eight steals. And as the point guard of the team, he also shared about how his game improved throughout the tournament.
“Yung pag-dictate ng pace,” the 5-foot-10 guard said about what he learned. “Kasi every day, iba-iba mga kalaban namin dito eh. Minsan mabagal tumakbo, yung iba mabibilis. So kailangan ko mag-adjust dun.”
Kai Sotto meanwhile had tournament averages of 12.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks. Sotto likewise comes from Ateneo and even won Rookie of the Year for the Blue Eaglets in the recent UAAP Juniors season.
“Isang karangalan na makasama sa lineup na to at marepresent ang Pilipinas kaya napakasaya ko na makasama ko yung teammates ko at coaches ko,” Sotto cheerfully said.
Both Sotto and Padrigao have bannered Batang Gilas throughout the SEABA tourney and have met the expectations of fans.
“Siguro yung napakita namin ni Kai parang worth it naman [kami] sa mga sinasabi,” Padrigao said about living up to the hype. However, he’s quick to point out that frankly, he and Sotto don’t care about what other people are saying. “Mas iniisip namin yung paano kami manalo as a team. ‘Di namin iniisip yung sarili namin. Basta manalo sa team, okay na,” he confidently said.
Even as a pair of 15-year-olds, the two are mature enough to not concern themselves in living up to the expectations of fans and the media. Yes they’re young and talented. And yes, they’re still raw and still have a long way to go. Even they know that. But considering their age and what they have already achieved for flag and country, we can only be proud of them and hope for the best in their future.
“Siguro darating din tayo dyan,” Padrigao shared about the idea of maybe one day being part of Gilas Pilipinas. “Pero sa ngayon ‘di ko muna iniisip yan, iniisip ko muna na present na situation ngayon.”
Up next for Batang Gilas is a battle for the FIBA Asia U-16 Championships later this year.
“Ready na kami pero mas-irready pa namin ang sarili namin kasi ‘di pa kami ganun ka-perfect para maglaro sa FIBA Asia, pero kaya namin yun,” Sotto remarked. “Atsaka magpa-practice talaga kami nang maayos kasi ibang usapan na yung FIBA Asia.”
With young stars like Sotto and Padrigao, Batang Gilas, as well as the future of Philippine basketball, is in good hands.
Kai Sotto said it best, just as he and the rest of the team were slowly making their way out of the Araneta Coliseum:
“As a Gilas [player], yung puso talaga,” he said about what he learned the most. “Kailangan pagpasok mo sa court, may puso ka. Kailangan mo paghirapan lahat ng gagawin mo.”