Kai Sotto compared to Kings' Marvin Bagley III by his TSF coach
Kai Sotto's The Skill Factory coach compared him to Sacramento Kings' Marvin Bagley III
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Kai Sotto compared to Kings' Marvin Bagley III by his TSF coach

Alder Almo (Philstar.com) - May 23, 2020 - 10:19am

JERSEY CITY – First impression counts but last impressions are forever. 

Kai Sotto has managed to do both in the Atlanta-based prep team The Skill Factory which helped advance his US basketball profile that eventually landed him an invitation to join the NBA G League Select Team.

“When I first saw Kai, I was impressed with his size. He was taller than I expected. On the court, I was impressed with his feel for the game and creativity with the ball,” TSF coach Rob Johnson told Philstar.com. 

The 7-foot-2 Sotto showed right from the get-go that the hype was real when he posted 18 points and 12 rebounds in his US debut against the IMG Academy last year.  He followed that up with a 20-point and five-rebound performance and the young Filipino prospect’s star just sky-rocketed as big NCAA Division I programs scrambled to get his commitment. 

Johnson saw something special in Sotto that augurs well in the kid’s bid to become the first full-blooded Filipino in the NBA.  Not only the apparent talent but also the intangibles of a great player. 

“He’s very coachable. He has great manners and takes coaching very well. You can be hard on him and hold him accountable and he responds. Our player-coach relationship is always based on mutual respect. Off the court, it’s the same,” Johnson said. “We are always talking about the mental side of the game. 

The first thing that Johnson tweaked in Sotto’s game upon his arrival in Atlanta was his ability to absorb contact.  With his improved form and balance, he quickly adapted to the modern American style of play becoming a rim-running center that has a lot of post moves and packs a midrange jumper that even extends to the three-point line. 

When asked who is the NBA player that comes top of his mind upon seeing Sotto’s game, Johnson had an interesting answer: Marvin Bagley III. 

The one-and-done Bagley out of Duke was the second overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft behind Phoenix Suns’ top pick Deandre Ayton and ahead of rising stars Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young. 

At 6-11 and 235 pounds with a 7-1 wingspan, Bagley came into the NBA as a cross between the traditional and modern big man.

Bagley’s back-to-the-basket move was one of the bests, if not the best, in his class but is also agile and athletic enough to run as a center especially when the Kings play small ball.  His advanced offensive talent and ability to rebound has intrigued the Kings to fit him next to their young and exciting backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield.  The only problem though is Bagley is having a hard time staying on the court. He missed 20 games in his rookie season and has only played 13 games this season prior to the stoppage caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sotto, meanwhile, has managed to avoid serious injuries in his young career so far.  As he plans to pack more muscles and develop an NBA speed, his fans could only hope his body can hold up. 

Johnson, who has sent 27 players to NCAA Division I programs over his five years of coaching experience, has thrown his full support of Sotto’s decision to skip college. 

“I told Kai that I was proud of him and always thought he was good enough to play professionally right out of TSF. I told him I’m here for him whenever he needs me, if he needs any advice on his game or in life, the same way I am with all of my players,” Johnson said. 

More than Sotto’s flashes of brilliance on the court, Johnson said he would always remember how his TSF teammates enjoyed playing with him.  

“Off the court, he has a family and people close to him who have done a great job raising him,” Johnson said.  

His hope is to, one day, see Sotto in the list of NBA players who have worked out with TSF. James Harden and Kemba Walker headline that list along with retired NBA player Joe Johnson. 

“My biggest impact was just helping him continue to learn the game at the highest level and putting him in a position on the floor to showcase his ability. And also learning to play every possession and to hold himself accountable on every possession,” Johnson said.

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