MANILA, Philippines — Kai Sotto and Carl Tamayo’s much-anticipated showdown in the Japan B.League will have to wait.
All eyes were on the rekindling of rivalry in Japan between Gilas teammates but Tamayo did not play as the Golden Kings spoiled Sotto’s debut for the Hiroshima Dragonflies, 86-78, on Wednesday at Okinawa Arena.
The former University of the Philippines star, who made his debut for Ryukyu in the East Asia Super League Champions Week, accepted his coach’s decision to bench him and understood it was part of the process.
Tamayo, though, couldn’t help but be proud of his former high school rival as Sotto debuted with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and had three blocks, two rebounds, and a steal in 19 minutes.
“I’m very happy [for] Kai. I know he’s a very talented player. I know his capabilities. I’m very proud of him. I know he really worked hard to be able to play like that right now. I’m proud of Kai. Hopefully, he’ll be doing well for the rest of the season,” said Tamayo on his former high school rival.
Moments before the game, Tamayo approached Sotto and had a short pep talk. The 7-foot-3 center shared he was checking on his good friend, who is playing overseas for the first time.
“I was just checking on him, how he was doing. It’s his first time [to play in] the professional [league]. It’s his first time probably away from the Philippines living by himself,” said Sotto, who played for two seasons in the National Basketball League in Australia.
“I’ve been through that and I know how it feels. It’s good to see Carl. We played against each other since high school so it’s good to see him,” he added.
Despite the benching of his pal, Sotto knows that his Gilas teammate is going to make an immediate impact for Ryukyu once he checks in.
“It’s understandable, it’s his first year and his first game and he came in towards the middle of the season. I know how good Carl is. It’s the first game of the season for him, the next games you just gotta watch out for Carl because he’s a really good player,” Sotto said.
The 20-year-old Sotto said he also watched the highlights of Tamayo during his debut with the Golden Kings in the EASL and he was not surprised to see his former high school rival showcasing his talent.
“I didn’t watch the full game. I saw some highlights and I already know how good Carl is. I wasn’t shocked to see his performance and he’s only gonna get better,” he said.
The Golden Kings earned their seventh straight win to improve to a 30-9 record, the Dragonflies dropped to 28-11 in Sotto’s debut.
Tamayo and Sotto could face each other when their teams collide anew on May 6 and 7.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.