Jr. NBA Coach Jeff Cariaso (L) was amazed at the vast improvement of Kai Sotto, who is an alumni of the Jr. NBA Philippines program
Jr. NBA mentor Cariaso amazed at Kai Sotto's improvement
Luisa Morales (Philstar.com) - May 24, 2020 - 11:12am

MANILA, Philippines — Alaska head coach Jeff Cariaso has seen the journey of Philippine basketball phenom Kai Sotto since his early teens.

Working as a coach with the Jr. NBA program here in the country, Cariaso was able to mentor Sotto in the earlier stages of his development.

Speaking during Episode Six of NBA Philippines' "Republika Huddle", Cariaso recalled Sotto's humble beginnings in the program as well as the immense improvement since he first saw the 18-year-old on the court.

"We first got to really see Kai at the age of 12, 13 in [the] Jr. NBA and believe it or not, he wasn't even chosen as what we call like an All-Star that gets to go on a trip and get to compete against other Southeast Asian teams," he said.

"He was young, he was thin, a little slow going up and down the court, [the] skill set wasn't there. Pretty much he was just tall," he added.

But two years later, the Jr. NBA mentor was pleasantly surprised at the now 7'2" cager's improvement.

"He comes back for that third year [in the Jr. NBA], and there's a radical difference in his game," Cariaso said.

"The Jet" noted improvements in Sotto's fundamentals like rebounding, ball handling and passing.

"He's scoring at will because he's a foot or two taller than the guys guarding him," Cariaso quipped of Sotto's skill set at the time.

"[It's] amazing how you see him four years later after that Jr. NBA stint in 2016," he added.

Sotto, along with Filipino-American Jalen Green, will be part of a new NBA G League squad that will focus on developing their skills to make them NBA-ready.

The 18-year-old Sotto is aiming to be the first-ever full-blooded Filipino in the NBA.

"To see where he is now... he has more to learn and more growth to happen for him but I think he's really on the right path," Cariaso said.

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