Kai Sotto is out but will Jordan Clarkson make it? What to expect from Gilas Pilipinas' trip to China

Although it was initially reported that Jordan Clarkson would be heading directly to Manila ahead of the upcoming FIBA World Cup, it is now reported that there could be a chance he joins up with Gilas Pilipinas at their China training stint. FIBA

Gilas Pilipinas is now in Guangdong, China to play four games in a pocket tournament with Iran and Senegal, as their preparations for the 2023 FIBA World Cup enter the home stretch.

Here's what to expect from Gilas in this pocket tournament.

What is this tournament?

Officially it's called the Heyuan WUS International Basketball Tournament.

Lebanon was supposed to be the fourth team to join, but reportedly backed out at the last minute to play in another tournament in Abu Dhabi.

Iran and Senegal kick off the tournament on Wednesday night. Gilas plays Iran on Aug. 3, Senegal on Aug. 4 and 6, and then Iran again on Aug. 7.

All games will be played at 8 p.m. Manila time.

What kind of competition can Gilas expect?

Senegal did not qualify for the World Cup after losing out to South Sudan for the final African slot, but will still be challenging opposition for Gilas.

The goal here is to play against an opponent that can approximate what Gilas can expect from Group A opponent Angola. It's not yet clear who will play for them, but their last FIBA roster had an official average height of 6-foot-6.

While Senegal won't be at the World Cup, they will be using this pocket tournament to prepare for the FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament to be held in Lagos starting Aug. 12.

Apparently, Iran is sending their 'B' team to China and not their World Cup-bound team, which according to a FIBA report doesn't start training until Aug. 8 and will instead participate in another pocket tournament in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Iran recently announced its 15-man World Cup roster, but the team playing in China is a totally different 14-man squad reportedly composed of younger players.

Still, it will be a good test for Gilas in terms of fine-tuning some stuff and further evaluation of players.

How is the roster shaping up and what's at stake?

Exactly 12 Gilas players are in Guangdong -- none naturalized.

This is the first time, though, that this particular combination of players from the pool will be competing together in actual games.

Bobby Ray Parks Jr., RR Pogoy and Calvin Oftana weren't part of the Europe camp, while Poy Erram, Scottie Thompson, Justin Brownlee and Ange Kouame have missed this trip to China. Additionally, AJ Edu joined the training stint in Europe but didn't play due to an ankle injury and is now fully healthy.

In Europe, Gilas coach Chot Reyes used different starting lineups depending on who was healthy.

June Mar Fajardo and Justin Brownlee were the two constants, with Dwight Ramos, Japeth Aguilar and Chris Newsome also getting the call more often than others. Kiefer Ravena, CJ Perez and Rhenz Abando also started at one time or another.

Essentially, the 12 in China -- plus Jordan Clarkson and Kai Sotto -- are what's left of the Gilas pool, meaning two players will be cut.

With the World Cup less than four weeks away, this tournament could make or break the chances of the players sitting on the fringes of the rotation.

Erram's injury has decimated an already thin frontline rotation, so the bigs in China -- Fajardo, Aguilar and Edu -- should be okay, as is the case with versatile wings like Oftana and Ramos.

It's the competition among the guards that will be fierce.

Parks, Newsome, Perez, Abando and the Ravena brothers -- Kiefer and Thirdy -- will all be trying to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff, particularly since one of the guard slots has been locked up by Clarkson.

Don't forget Thompson, a regular starter at point guard during the last FIBA window, might just recover in time for the World Cup.

Is Jordan Clarkson playing in China?

Speaking of Clarkson, the Philippine Star reported on Tuesday morning that there's a chance Clarkson will fly to Guangdong from Los Angeles on Aug. 6 -- opening the door for him to possibly play in Gilas' last game the day after.

Should this push through, Gilas is expected to stay a few more days in China to train with Clarkson. If not, the team will rendezvous with him in Manila on Aug. 8.

What about Kai Sotto?

Sotto was last seen on social media working out at a gym in Manila while the rest of Gilas were on their way to Guangdong.

The official word is he's still rehabilitating his back and won't be ready until sometime next week.

So presumably, Reyes will have his full complement of players by then. But you never know.