With Kai Sotto already hoping to become the first Filipino homegrown player to make it to the NBA, the Philippines could eventually be a source of talented players at that level.
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams said as much in a recent edition of the NBA Republika Huddle. He added that the country might end up becoming like Canada in terms of producing NBA-caliber hoopers.
“I think any time you have one or two guys break through and you just continue to work and continue to have the enthusiasm and the environment, at some point you could end up being like Canada,” he said during NBA Philippines’ Republika Huddle.
In a country where hockey is king, the game of basketball has grown by leaps and bounds. And a testament to that, there are a number of Canadian players who have gotten into the league over the past years.
A record six players were chosen in last year’s Draft, led by RJ Barrett, the New York Knicks’ third overall pick. According to ca.nba.com, at least one Canadian player has been selected in the last 10 drafts.
That includes Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the first overall selections of 2013 and 2014, respectively. The former was taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the Minnesota Timberwolves chose the latter.
And in a report by Forbes.com prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, a record 16 Canadians were on NBA rosters, with four more signed to two-way contracts. Those 16 players are the most for a country outside the US.
Canada’s greatest product is two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash, but there have also been active players that are making a mark in the league such as Denver Nuggets star Jamal Murray; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk; and NBA champion Tristan Thompson of the Cavs, to name a few.
“There was a time where Canadians… They’re just north of the border, but there weren’t that many Canadians who had pushed themselves into the level of, you know, high-level college players. And now you see this influx of Jamal Murrays and Wiggins and all these guys coming from Canada. It’s like, wow, it just started to happen every year,” Williams said.
“But it started with one or two guys back in the day,” added the veteran mentor, who ventured into coaching in 2005 — two years after retiring as a player.
“And these guys from Canada, you know, obviously looking at American players, but they also saw guys that grew up the same way they did, came to the same gyms that they did, and now believe that they can.”
If the country can sustain its efforts to further develop the game, Williams firmly believes that the country can grow the same way Canadian basketball has over the years.
“So I think if you guys continue with your programs and camps and seeds of fundamentals, just staying with that — now that you have a few examples, you might end up having your own pipeline. And that’s exciting,” said the 48-year-old.
“I mean, think about your country having 10, 12, 15 guys in the NBA. How cool would that be?”
And the good thing, Williams said, is that there’s now the G-League, which could help Filipinos and all others from around the world get a chance to play and grow in an environment that will help them realize the NBA dream.
Sotto himself is set to play in the G-League with Ignite, a team made up of young elite prospects that signed up for the developmental league’s trailblazing professional pathway program.
The Ateneo High School prodct will be playing alongside Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Congolese Jonathan Kuminga, and Indian Princepal Singh in the squad that is coached by Brian Shaw.
“You have guys from around the world that get to be on that platform, and they’re gonna be seen. We watch those games because we’re watching our young players play in the G-League, so when you’re watching those games, we get to see other players. So I think it creates a great platform for players from all over the world to play and give themselves a chance to get to the NBA.”