MANILA, Philippines – Never mind that the Ateneo Blue Eaglets lost Game 2 to the NU Bullpups. After Game 1, it was already clear who would be the frontrunner for the Finals MVP award.
When the dust settled and the trophy was hoisted, the 7-foot-1 Gilas 2023 cadet Kai Sotto was formally named the Finals MVP after posting team-highs of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in the do-or-die Game 3 victory. After 3 grueling games with the tenacious Bullpups, the 15-year old Sotto averaged 17 points, 13 rebounds and an unparalleled 6.3 blocks, largely due to his masterful Game 1 triple-double of 22 points, 16 boards and 11 rejections.
Despite his long reach and skyscraping style of play, Sotto remained grounded even in the face of triumph. When he was asked for a photo opportunity while holding his MVP trophy, he gestured for his teammates to join him and refused to pose until they surrounded him.
Even during the post-game interview, Sotto remained soft-spoken, but his words reflected how he really felt.
“Siyempre sobrang saya,” he said. “Ako na siguro ang isa sa pinakamasayang tao ngayon sa Pilipinas. Siyempre nakakuha ka ng championship. Sino ba namang hindi sasaya ‘dun?”
(“Of course, I’m really happy. I guess I’m one of the happiest men in the Philippines right now. Of course, when you get a championship, who wouldn’t be happy with that?”)
“’Yung Finals MVP ko, lahat ‘yun para sa team ko,” he added after being asked about the gesture during the photo ops. “Di ko naman makukuha ‘yung Finals MVP kung hindi dahil sa mga coach ko, sa teammates ko, [at] family ko. Kung wala sila, ‘di kami makakaabot sa ganito.”
(“My Finals MVP [award], that’s for my team. I wouldn’t be able to get that award if not for my coaches, my teammates and my family. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”)
While Sotto made it clear that he wouldn’t win without the people around him, those people likewise made it clear that they needed him more than ever in Game 3.
“Sabi ni Coach Joe [Silva] – minessage ako, sabi niya, “Kai, kailangan ka namin. Kailangang ipakita talaga ‘yung galing mo,”” he said. “Sabi ko, “Coach, ‘di na kailangang sabihin ‘yan. Gagawin ko na talaga ‘yan. Ito na ‘yung last game, coach. Para sa’yo ‘to.””
(“Coach Joe messaged me and said, “Kai, we need you. You have to really show what you have.” I said, “Coach, you don’t have to say it. I will really do it. This is the last game, coach. This is for you.”)
After just two years with the Eaglets, Kai Sotto already showed enough on why he’s touted as one of the future stars of Philippine basketball.
The sky – almost literally – is the limit. – Rappler.com