Skai’s the limit for Sotto

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

It made perfect sense for Smart Communications to pick 7-3 rising basketball star Kai Sotto as a brand ambassador. Sotto’s only 18 and his journey to big time hoops is just starting. Sports agent Joel Bell predicts a long career for Sotto and mentions at least 15 years of playing expectancy. He’s the country’s best bet to crash the NBA as the first full-blooded Filipino and Smart president/CEO Al Panlilio, who also happens to be the Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) president, calls him the future of Philippine basketball.

Smart’s campaign of inspiring the youth to pursue their passions with a purpose is right down Sotto’s alley. Panlilio says in Sotto’s case, it’s all about balancing his NBA dream with playing for the country. As the latest face of Smart prepaid, Sotto is encouraging the next generation of Filipinos, whether athletes or not, to live their dreams with the nation’s fastest mobile data network as partner. Smart subscribers can follow their passions with a purpose and share them with their worlds when they avail of the Double GIGA Stories which comes with two GB of Stories Every Day for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Kumu plus two GB open access data for P99, valid for seven days.

Bell says no doubt when Sotto becomes eligible for the NBA draft in 2022, he’ll be picked. “Kai’s an underrated passer with a great future, a talented, gifted young guy,” says Bell whose client De’Anthony Melton plays for the Memphis Grizzlies and past clients Sebastian Telfair, Mario Chalmers, Michael Beasley, DeAndre Jordan, Brian Skinner, Theo Ratliff and John Salmons were NBA players. Bell points to Sotto’s “passing acumen” and “basketball IQ” as two of his strong points.

East West Private’s Patty Scott says since Sotto arrived in the US in March 2019 with his family, it’s been work, work, work. He graduated from high school in Miami a few weeks ago and now, his focus is exclusively to develop as a pro player. Sotto recently signed a two-year contract, extendable to a third year as an option, with the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) whose next season starts in October and ends in April. Adelaide general manager Jeff Van Groningen says the 36ers won’t get in Sotto’s way of playing for Gilas. “We’re used to this,” says Van Groningen, referring to coordination with FIBA and different national coaches. “We’ll integrate Kai’s national commitments with our team.” Sotto says he’ll play for Gilas in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade on June 29-July 4 and the FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta on Aug. 16-28. There’s a chance he’ll also suit up for the Philippines in the FIBA Asia Cup third qualifying window in Clark on June 16-20. Panlilio says ideally, Sotto should train with the national team a month before each competition. Gilas project director Tab Baldwin says schedules are being worked out with Sotto and East West Private, his management team.

Adelaide head coach Connor Henry, 57, envisions Sotto as a stretch five and “an ideal fit for us.” The three-year NBA veteran says the 36ers will get Sotto ready for the NBA. An Adelaide player 6-8 Josh Giddey, also 18 like Sotto, is groomed to be a future NBA first-round pick and made his debut with the Boomers in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers last year. Henry began his coaching career in 2001 and was the D-League Coach of the Year with Fort Wayne in 2014. Bell says Sotto will be in good hands at Adelaide as Van Groningen says the 36ers will take care of his strength, conditioning, diet and nutrition aside from honing his court skills. Van Groningen stresses that the NBL isn’t an exhibition platform and has been the springboard for several Australian bigs like Luc Longley, Mark Bradtke and Chris Antsey to jump to the NBA.

Sotto isn’t taking days off in the US. Over the last few weeks in Miami, he’s been working out with 6-11 Greg Monroe, 6-6 Elijah Millsap, 6-2 Brandon Knight and 6-10 Lester Prosper. Millsap and Prosper were former PBA imports while Monroe and Knight were NBA first-round draft picks. He also met up with 14-year NBA veteran Amar’e Stoudemire. Scott says Sotto is clearly in the right direction as he pursues his NBA dream while staying committed to Gilas. “It’s passion with purpose,” says Panlilio.

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