KAI-vals Series: NU's counter Carl Tamayo

Norman Lee Benjamin Riego on Jan 04, 2019 01:26 PM
KAI-vals Series: NU's counter Carl Tamayo
Carl Tamayo stood strong in his first head-to-head matchup with Batang Gilas teammate Kai Sotto

It has become some sort of a cliché now that Kai Sotto is not yet done growing.

Indeed, Ateneo de Manila High School’s 7-foot-1, 16-year-old still has three more years, including this one, to tower over the competition in high school.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the rest of the competition will just take that lying down.

Here, we take a look at the players who are more than capable of challenging Sotto’s dominance – now and even onto the future.

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Carl Tamayo has only played four games in his first year for Nazareth School of National University no thanks to a nagging right ankle sprain.

There was one game he wasn’t going to miss no matter what, however – the Bullpups rematch with Ateneo de Manila High School which bested them for last year’s championship. “Yung pagmamahal ko sa team, siyempre, kailangan nila ako so I played through the pain,” he said.

Not only did he play through the pain, he actually lived up to the hype of being a match for Kai Sotto, the Blue Eaglets’ 7-foot-1, 16-year-old.

Sotto had 23 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two steals in their head-to-head matchup, but it was Tamayo who came away with the win on top of a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.

For NU’s own towering teen, though, it wasn’t the prospect of facing off with the Philippines’ biggest hope in basketball that motivated him. Rather, it was being on the floor and doing battle alongside his teammates.

“Naging motivation ko, yung teammates ko kasi kailangan nila ako,” he shared afterward. “Kasi nga, malaki si Kai so pag nandun ako, alam kong magiging malaki rin contributions ko.”

Indeed, for two years, Sotto is yet to find his match in the UAAP Juniors where only Raven Cortez comes close to his talent and potential. Most of the country’s young prospects have risen over in the NCAA Juniors in the likes of Warren Bonifacio, Aaron Fermin, and Will Gozum.

Enter Tamayo, the UAAP Juniors’ Rookie of the Year right before Sotto was hailed as the top newcomer.

Tamayo won Rookie of the Year while displaying an inside-outside game that was still quite rare for a big man.

Now, he is only continuing to develop the all-around game he already has.

This continued development is made even more impressive by the fact that the now 17-year-old has only been playing basketball for around five years.

Yes, back in his hometown of Cebu, he was a tall kid, but nobody will find him in basketball courts and instead, he was most often playing billiards. “Hindi pa talaga ako naglalaro (ng basketball) nun. Bilyar talaga ako,” he said, recalling his time as a 12-year-old who already stood 5-foot-10.

That was until coach Goldwin Monteverde came over to Cebu and ultimately convinced him to put his height to good use. “Meron kasi kaming kapitbahay, player nina coach Gold dati, tapos kinausap niya yung ball boy na may malaki nga raw siyang kapitbahay. Yung ball boy naman, kinausap si coach Gold tapos timing, pumunta sila sa Cebu, ayun, kinuha nila ako,” he shared.

Of course, a little encouragement in the form of a ticket to watch San Miguel and idol June Mar Fajardo played a part in convincing Tamayo to move to Manila.

From there, not only did the now 6-foot-8 versatile big man prove to be a prized prospect, he would also turn out to be a big piece for the Bullpups as they try to put a stop to Ateneo’s dynasty in the UAAP Juniors. “Nung una, ‘di ko alam paano maglaro so ensayo lang nang ensayo,” he shared.

He then continued, “Kahit papaano, nag-improve naman nang nag-improve.”

And now, Tamayo only vows to keep doing what he had always done – get better and better.

In particular, he wants nothing more than to weaponize his outside shot to that Sotto and other opposing big men will be forced to go with him to the perimeter, leaving the paint open for slashers such as Gerry Abadiano and Cyril Gonzales to attack. As he put it, “Ang tine-train namin ngayon, to play outside. Magiging malaking tulong sa teammates ko yun kung na-develop ko yun.”

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Tamayo and Sotto will go head-to-head for three seasons, including this one, in the UAAP Juniors.

They go at it once more just as NU and Ateneo will go at it once more as the second round of the UAAP 81 Juniors Basketball Tournament begins on January 13 at the Filoil Flying V Centre.

And for the first time ever, that matchup will be LIVE and EXCLUSIVE on S+A, S+A HD, LIGA, LIGA HD and via livestream. Tip-off is at 3:00 PM.

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Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.

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