Welcome home, Kai; goodbye, Diay

By August 15, 2022General Admission

By Al S. Mendoza


KAI Sotto is coming home and Lydia de Vega has gone back to her Creator.

Kai is the Filipino beanpole long wanted by the Philippines to help our country’s campaign in the Fiba World Cup set in JIP (Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines) next year.

De Vega, Diay to those dear to her, was the comely lass from Meycauayan, Bulacan, who became Asia’s fastest woman for eight years—starting when she was 18 in 1982.  At age 57, she succumbed to breast cancer on August 10.

After months of wooing, Kai finally relented to suit up for Gilas Pilipinas in the biggest and granted stage of world basketball.

“We are glad to have Kai into the Gilas fold and thank him for his proactive response to the call to play for flag and country for the August Qualifiers,” said Sonny Barrios, both the executive director and spokesman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).

Window four of the Fiba qualifiers pit Gilas against Lebanon on Aug. 25 in Beirut and against Saudi Arabia on Aug. 29 at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.

Although we are seeded into the 2023 Fiba World Cup due to our being co-host of the biennial meet with Japan and Indonesia, it is imperative that we should be able to fare well in the qualifiers if only to gauge our preparedness to compete against the world’s so-called cream of the crop in the sport the Filipinos love the most.

Kai has been practically travelling all over the world, exploring possibilities on how to hone his skills to go with his built-in advantage of being a man-mountain.

With his extraordinary ceiling of 7-foot-3 and supposedly sturdy knees of 20 years, Kai has the natural potential to dominate since basketball, as we all know, is a sport where height is might.

He kept failing in his bids to crash the big time, the most recent of which was when he was snubbed in the yearly draft to sign up new players in America’s NBA, the world’s No. 1 basketball league.

From that setback, Kai resurfaced with a contract to play in Australia for the Adelaide team, a venture that was also not going the way he wanted it to be as he was seldom used by his coach.

With his decision to come home and play for Gilas Pilipinas, it is hoped that Kai would morph into what he is generally expected to be:  A dominant slot man using his sky-high height and an ocean-wide wingspan to transform the shaded lane into his personal domain.

As for Diay, her place in the pantheon of Philippine greats has been cemented long before TikTok came along.

She had more than 40 gold medals, becoming the most bemedaled Filipino athlete in history—male or female.

Two of her golds came in the 1982 and 1986 Asian Games, where she was hailed, at 18, as the Sprints Queen by winning the century dash in both Asiads.

Her time of 11.28 seconds in winning the 1987 SEA Games 100-m dash gold remains unbroken to this day.

Diay and her track and field teammates were guests in 1978 at a Surigao beach resort owned by the late Gov. Jose Sering, then Patafa (track & field) president.

I was there covering the excursion.

I gave Diay a piggy-back ride the first time we swam at the beach —Diay then being a kid of 14 in her blissful innocence.

We had become close friends since.

I had a photo of that snapped by veteran photographer Ed Alfonso.

Too bad it got lost.  But the memory of it isn’t.

Goodbye, Diay.  You did well.   Very, very well.

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