Sotto’s in good hands

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2021 - 12:00am

There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Kai Sotto’s exclusion from the Ignite team in the NBA G-League. Was he cut? Does coach Brian Shaw think he’s not good enough to play at the G-League level? Why wasn’t Kai accessible to media when he arrived to play for Gilas in the aborted FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window? Why did he leave Manila so quickly when the window was cancelled without even saying a word to media or thanking the fans for their support and prayers?

Kai’s only 18 but the expectation that he could be the first full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA must weigh heavily on his shoulders. Can you imagine the pressure of living up to that expectation as a teenager? Kai’s career is being navigated by a US firm East West Private which was established in 2009 with expertise in facilitating world-wide expansion of companies, branding work for celebrity athletes and managing the personal accounts of a wide range of clients. Its connections in the world of sports extend beyond agents and brokers, directly accessing all the way to the athletes themselves. East West has dealt with stars like Kobe Bryant and been involved with several projects in the Philippines, including Andray Blatche’s recruitment for Gilas and Jordan Clarkson’s participation in the Asian Games.

There was once an option for Kai to enroll in a US NCAA D-1 school to hone his skills like A. J. Edu who’s now with the University of Toledo varsity. Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Southern California, Georgia and Boston College were among the schools that reached out to Sotto. But in the end, the decision was to go the G-League route which has a professional pathway program without going through school. “I think the G-League is the best path for me because I’ll be coached by NBA-caliber coaches,” said Sotto. “The players there are really all talented. I just can’t wait to go there and train and compete.”

Just as Sotto was set to play for Ignite in the G-League, an offer came to join Gilas for the FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window.  Prioritizing the country, Sotto accepted the offer and flew back to Manila with his father Ervin, a former PBA player. But when the competition was cancelled, the Sottos hurriedly returned to the US. However, Sotto was not allowed to join Ignite in the G-League bubble because of safety and health concerns. “Kai and the team both understood the challenges for him to rejoin Ignite given the current international travel constraints, quarantine times and health and safety protocols,” said G-League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim. “Kai will always be part of the extended Ignite family and we wish him continued success as he pursues his NBA dreams.”

East West has declined to make a statement. “We can’t respond to any questions right now,” a spokesperson said. “We are under a news blackout agreement that we have to honor. But we are very pleased with recent developments and know that it’s the right move for Kai.” East West has taken care of Sotto since April 2019 when his entire family, including brother and sister, was brought to the US. It’s useless to speculate what’s ahead for Sotto. Let’s just wait for East West’s announcement and know Kai’s in good hands.

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