Philippine arts

Kai Sotto finishes as top U19 blocker, Dave Ildefonso 9th in scoring

JR Isaga
Kai Sotto finishes as top U19 blocker, Dave Ildefonso 9th in scoring
Filipino youngsters prove they can go toe-to-toe with the best the world has to offer

MANILA, Philippines – Although Gilas Pilipinas Youth finished 14th out of 16th in the recently-concluded 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup in Heraklion, Greece, there were still some positive takeaways from what was otherwise a heartbreaking campaign overall.

Aside from making it to the world stage for the first time in 40 years, Gilas also gave a platform for Filipino youngsters to shine brighter than the rest.

Kai Sotto, who is perhaps the Philippines’ best chance yet to finally have a homegrown talent enter the NBA, finished as the top block-getter in the prestigious tournament.

Tied with 6-foot-11 Senegalese center Ibou Dianko Badji, the 7-foot-1 Filipino wunderkind tallied 22 total blocks for the World Cup, averaging 3.1 swats per game.

Malian big man Oumar Ballo actually averaged 3.8 blocks per game on 19 total swats, but he only appeared in 5 games out of a possible 7.

Sotto, meanwhile, had been a consistent defensive stopper down low. While Gilas Youth lost their first 5 games and eventually their contention status, Sotto was just doing what he does best, especially in the group phase.

In 3 games against powerhouses Greece, Argentina, and Russia, Sotto recorded 15 of his 22 total blocks for the tournament, including back-to-back games with 6 rejections.

Not to be outdone on the offensive side, Sotto’s former Ateneo high school teammate Dave Ildefonso did his own thing as well in his final age-limited tournament, averaging 16.6 points per game and finished 9th overall in the scoring department.

The son of PBA legend Danny Ildefonso showed why he’s likely on the same path to greatness, as he asserted himself to be the team’s driving force, win or lose.

Like Sotto, Ildefonso’s best game came against Argentina, the world No. 9 U19 team. There, he tallied 22 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-15 shooting before Gilas ultimately failed in their upset bid with a 72-77 loss.

While AJ Edu’s horrific ACL tear pretty much crushed Gilas Youth’s momentum in the World Cup, many others like Sotto and Ildefonso still stepped up in his absence and fought until the end. 

Although a serious title bid will have to come at another time, Gilas Youth displayed true “puso” amid unexpected adversity and bowed out with their heads held high. – 

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