Not a few in the global basketball world are talking highly of Kai Sotto’s bid of breaking through as the first homegrown Filipino in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Scouts are salivating at the abilities of the 7-foot-2 prospect—his excellent footwork on the block while manning the paint defensively, his court vision as a nifty passer and soft hands at the perimeter that is a must for big men in the modern game.
The positive reviews about Sotto’s promise after playing two exhibition games for the NBA G League team Ignite in the United States have been encouraging, but the UAAP juniors most valuable player from the Ateneo de Manila University knows that at one point, he must turn the corner and transform his potential into reality.
“My ultimate dream is make it to the NBA. There haven’t been any full-blooded Filipino to reach that far, and I want to be the first one to show that we (Filipinos) can,’’ Sotto said during one of his interviews online.
With a frame still far from the one needed to help absorb the brute physicality of players his size take in the pros, Sotto has been pushing hard to bulk up and prepare himself to handle the NBA pace of the game.
So fixated is the 18-year-old son of former Philippine Basketball Association slotman Ervin Sotto on the pathway to his NBA dream that he temporarily set aside recruitment offers from blue-chip US NCAA college programs such as Georgia Tech, Kentucky and Auburn, among others.
Instead, the Filipino hooked up with the NBA G League last summer in a move that can accelerate his chances of getting in the radar of NBA teams.
His G League contract would have him playing in a bubble-type tournament the league put together starting February.
It will be set up like the NBA bubble in Orlando and will apply the same stringent health protocols—meaning no one goes in and out.
And that would eventually leave Sotto in a quandary as he would practically have to choose between his bubble stint or tour of duty with the National Five.
Gilas Pilipinas is slated to play South Korea on Feb. 18 and 22, while sandwiching a clash with Indonesia on the 20th to complete its Fiba Asia Cup assignments.
And that could be a problem.
Sotto likewise participated in the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp during the NBA All-Star Week in Chicago where all 30 NBA scouts watched high-level kids his age before he enrolled in the Skill Factory in Atlanta during the first part of his US training.
“I didn’t really know a lot of things about college recruitment, but when I came here (to the United States), I was a little shocked that things are happening so fast and I have to be ready for it,’’ said Sotto, who has his own website kaijuglobal.com to chronicle his journey to the biggest pro hoops league.
“The training here is different because they’re really focused and the trainers really dedicate themselves to help me get better as a player,’’ Sotto added.
Made to play defense
Joining the likes of consensus five-star high school recruits Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix at G League Ignite, Sotto can undoubtedly showcase his skills more in the bubble against 17 other teams compared to playing just three games in the Fiba window against the Indonesians and the Koreans.
Based in Walnut Creek, California, the G League Ignite team, beefed up by NBA veterans Amir Johnson and Bobby Brown, is part of the NBA’s one-year development program for elite NBA prospects coached by ex-Los Angeles Laker Brian Shaw.
In his twin scrimmages with Ignite, Shaw focused more on Sotto’s defensive presence with an average of 5.5 points on 2-for-8 shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks apart from committing 2.5 fouls and 1.5 turnovers.
“I want to represent the Philippines in international tournaments. I just want to show that my country is part of the basketball world,’’ said Sotto, who played for the under-16, under-17 and under-18 national teams.
Sotto’s presence with Gilas can definitely change the complexion of the national team’s outlook.
International basketball scouts have projected that Sotto will be a force for the Philippines at the Fiba level, a go-to guy that can extensively stretch the floor and create an immediate impact on both ends.
Still to make PH proud
Although still a work in progress, the exposure that Sotto has been getting at G League Ignite promises to mold him into a much better cager, one that can create spacing in a thicket of trees around the rim in the international scene.
“I appreciate the people who follow me in my journey. I use it as motivation and inspiration to work even harder to make them proud knowing that all my fellow Filipinos are supporting me,’’ Sotto said.
Whether or not he suits up for the national squad in the coming qualifier, Sotto remains as the humble and driven giant who can certainly make the Philippines proud whether he’s on the NBA floor or in the international arena.
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