For the past year, 17-year-old, 7-foot-2 wunderkind Kai Sotto has been working hard in the States, chasing the NBA dream.
Besides training with The Skills Factory in Atlanta, Georgia, Sotto has also received some help from a couple of former NBA players — naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche, and Filipino-at-heart Renaldo Balkman.
The two, on separate occasions, have practiced with the young buck, lauding the work Sotto has put in so far.
“He’s been great. He’s been working hard, listening. His work ethic is crazy.
“He and his dad are working out three times a day. Whether it’s skill work, in the weight room, or working out with us, he’s definitely putting in the work,” said Blatche, who was drafted as the 49th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft before having a nine-year career with Washington and Brooklyn.
“I worked out with him for the first time this summer, before this tournament. He’s a great guy, young kid, but he wants it. He really, really wants it. The way he is, he’s gonna kill with his hard work. He’s [just] got to keep pushing himself to be that player that he wants to be,” added Balkman, the 20th overall pick in the 2006 Draft before being in New York and Denver for six years.
“And he’s gonna get it.”
But workouts and actual games are two different animals.
From January 23 to February 1 at the Shabab Al Ahli Club, the two will see how much Sotto has really improved. The trio will lead the Mighty Sports frontcourt in the 2020 Dubai International Basketball Championship.
Safe to say, both Blatche and Balkman feel excited.
“His improvement’s gonna show in this tournament, playing against pros and not against little high school kids who he plays with. He’s gonna play against big guys and the pros, much taller than him and much smarter than him,” said Balkman.
“He’s made tremendous improvements, got some weight on himself,” continued Blatche.
“It’s gonna be exciting to play for him in a real tournament.”
Blatche, 33, and Balkman, 35, vow that even after their campaign in Dubai, they will continue to work with Sotto. And it’s because they see it as their duty as Kai’s “kuyas”.
“That’s why me and Dray, we’ve been there before and we’ll show him the way to go. We will help him to be the best he can, teach him certain ways to be a pro. He’s a great kid, a great guy and he can definitely help us.”