Real Madrid pursues Kai Sotto

Joaquin M. Henson - Associated Press
Real Madrid pursues Kai Sotto
Kai Sotto drew a lot of interest from scouts and agents when he played for the Philippines at the FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina last July.
www.fiba.basketball / asia

MANILA, Philippines — An NBA and FIBA certified agent has been pursuing 7-1 Kai Sotto for three months, trying to persuade his father Ervin to send the 16-year-old wunderkind to the Spanish premier division club Real Madrid on a $1 Million, five-year contract.

The agent met with Sotto’s father in Eastwood last Monday. There is still no decision whether or not Sotto will leave for Spain. An invitation has been given for Sotto’s parents to inspect the facilities and meet club officials in Madrid before making a decision. The agent went back to Minneapolis yesterday.

Sotto drew a lot of interest from scouts and agents when he played for the Philippines at the FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina last July. He averaged 16.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 28.9 minutes in seven games, hitting 47.2 percent from the field and 67.4 percent from the line. Batang Gilas finished No. 13 of 16. Last April, Sotto averaged 16.8 points and 13.5 rebounds as the Philippines wound up No. 4 of 8 at the FIBA U16 Asia Cup in China. Sotto kept busy by averaging 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds for the Philippines at the FIBA U18 Asia Cup in Thailand last month. 

No doubt, Sotto has the upside to become a major player in the international circuit. The agent’s idea is for Sotto to follow in the footsteps of Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis who both signed with Spanish clubs as teenagers then matured to join the NBA as first round draft picks. Doncic was 13 when he was recruited by Real Madrid and at 16, started to play in the Liga Endesa or Liga ACB (Asociacion de Clubs de Baloncesto). At 19, the 6-6 forward became the NBA’s third overall draft pick this year and will now play for the Dallas Mavericks. Porzingis was 15 when he joined Sevilla in the Liga ACB and 20 when he was the New York Knicks’ first round pick and fourth overall in the 2015 draft. Other NBA players who went the Spanish route as teenagers were Congo’s Bismack Biyombo and Spain’s Hernangomez brothers Willy and Juancho.

Aside from Real Madrid, two other Liga ACB and two LEB (Liga Espanola de Baloncesto) Oro clubs inquired about Sotto’s availability. Liga ACB is Spain’s premier division while LEB Oro is the second division. In Europe, the usual practice is to recruit teenagers within the formative years of 16-19 to begin training with premier division clubs. Charlotte’s Tony Parker, formerly with San Antonio, turned pro at 17 in the French league then was drafted by the Spurs in the first round at 19 in 2001.

The speculation is if Sotto joins Real Madrid this year, he should be ripe for the NBA draft by 19. If he is picked by an NBA team, Real Madrid will negotiate to sell out the remaining portion of his contract. It becomes a business proposition where Real Madrid is paid back for investing in Sotto. A source close to the agent said it’s the fastest route to break into the NBA for Sotto to become the first full-blooded Filipino to ever enter the majors. “It’s like a United Nations in the Spanish basketball camps,” the source said. “There are players from all over the world, Africa, Eastern Europe. They’re surrounded by the best coaches who can develop their skills to the highest level. The players grow together, play together, go to school together, eat together. And when they’re done, they go to the NBA together. The plan is for Kai to train at Real Madrid’s academy then when he’s ready, they’ll play him in the ACB. From the ACB, the sky’s the limit.”

There is enough Filipino-rooted influence in the NBA to welcome Sotto when the time comes. Former PBA import Dell Demps is the general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans whose international scout Yarone Arbel was recently in Macau evaluating talent at the Terrific 12 tournament. Former TNT coach Bill Bayno is an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers. Former TNT coaching consultant Maz Trakh is an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. Former PBA TV analyst Jim Kelly is a scout with the Mavericks. Jama Mahlalela, who spent several years conducting Jr. NBA camps in Manila, is head coach of the Toronto farm affiliate Raptors 905 in the NBA G-League. Fil-Am Erik Spoelstra is the Miami Heat head coach and Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Another option for Sotto to consider is enrolling in an NCAA Division I school in the US. There is talk that at least two schools are checking on Sotto. One is Gonzaga University where John Stockton played and the other is the University of Southern California where DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic saw action. Sotto also has the option of staying at Ateneo where he is now the star of the Eaglets varsity and eventually, moving to the senior division.

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