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Draft expert tempers expectations, but says NBA door open for Kai Sotto

Alder Almo - Philstar.com
Draft expert tempers expectations, but says NBA door open for Kai Sotto
Kai Sotto in his pre-draft workout with the Sacramento Kings
Twitter / Sacramento Kings

NEW YORK – The day of reckoning has arrived for the Philippines’ top prospect Kai Sotto after wrapping up his NBA pre-Draft workouts in Indiana Tuesday (Wednesday, Manila time).

Sotto will hold his NBA Draft watch party in his home base in Atlanta. At the same time, from 8,779 miles away across the Pacific Ocean, an entire nation will anxiously wait for Sotto’s name to be called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (in the first round) or Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum (in the second round) at Barclays Center Thursday night (Friday morning in Manila).

Will Sotto make history as the first Philippine-born player to be selected in the NBA Draft?

Jonathan Givony, ESPN’s NBA Draft expert and the founder and co-owner of Draftexpress.com, tempered expectations but left the door open for Sotto to enter the league in one way or another.

“I have not heard his name very much from teams drafting in the second round. But that doesn't mean that something couldn't happen on draft night,” Givony told Philstar.com in a conference call with US-based reporters Wednesday (Thursday Manila time).

“I know, he's only 20 years old, like Bobby (Marks), and I keep reiterating, there are multiple ways to make the NBA now, even if you don't hear your name called [Thursday night]. And so, I expect him to be a guy that teams will continue to monitor throughout his career because he's a very highly touted guy early on, and I think there's still some upside there left to tap into.”

An ankle injury may have hurt Sotto’s draft stock as he missed a significant chunk of his pre-draft workout with NBA teams. He could only visit seven of the dozen workouts scheduled for him.

Sotto attended group workouts in New York (Nos. 11 and 42), Orlando (Nos. 1, 32 and 35), Cleveland (Nos. 14, 39 and 56), Chicago (No. 18), Atlanta (Nos. 16 and 44), Sacramento (Nos. 4, 37 and 49), Los Angeles Clippers (No. 43) and Indiana (Nos. 6, 31 and 58).

The Kings could be his best shot among the eight NBA teams he visited.

In 2015, the Kings made history when they signed 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar, the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game, to a 10-day contract.

Vivek Ranadive, the lone NBA owner from India, deeply understands what it means for an Asian country like the Philippines to have Sotto make history the way Bhullar did eight years ago.

The Kings could reunite Sotto with Jimmy Alapag, their Filipino-American assistant coach in the G League and a contemporary of Kai’s father, Ervin, in the Philippine Basketball Association.

Sacramento, the capital of the state of California, has a large Filipino community. About 20,000 of Sacramento County’s 1.5 million residents are Filipino, according to the Sacramento Asian Pacific Islander Regional Network.

Givony noted that Sotto had a very good NBL stint and it a was significant move after failing to showcase his talent in the G League Ignite program due to conflict with his commitment to the Philippine national team.

“He rebounded very well [from missing the G League Bubble] by going to Adelaide, showing what he can do as far as being a seven-foot-two extremely skilled, big man who can play,” Givony said. “He's got great touch around the rim, can shoot the three a little bit. He rebounds. He is a solid positional defender around the basket, blocking shots and stuff like that.”

Sotto averaged 7.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 4.5 rebounds and 0.83 blocks in 15 minutes off the bench for the 36ers in the NBL.

Before Sotto returned to the US to undergo the pre-draft process, his agent, Joel Bell, told Philstar.com that he had already secured a commitment from an undisclosed NBA team that they would draft his client.

Thursday could be the day history beckons for the Sotto and the basketball-crazy Philippines.
 
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Alder Almo is a former senior sportswriter for Philstar.com and NBA.com Philippines. He is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey, and writes for the New York-based sports website empiresportsmedia.com.

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