Remember how dominant Kai Sotto was during his stay in Ateneo High School?
Who could ever forget his 22-point, 16-rebound, and 11-block outing against the NU Bullpups back in Game One of the UAAP Season 80 Juniors Basketball Finals?
Then at the Asian level, the 7-foot-2, second generation cager was equally as dominant.
Just two years ago, Sotto normed 12.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game in the FIBA Under-18 Asian Championship to carry Gilas Youth to the World Cup a year later.
So the next logical step was to enter a Division I program, right? Well, for his former coaches Joe Silva and Reggie Varilla, Sotto entering the G League’s Professional Path program was the next step — not college.
“I think that Kai made the right decision in making that jump to the G League.
“Going to the G League will give him the best preparation possible. And since the G League is affiliated with the NBA, all the exposure, the trainings, and the games he will play will be close to NBA standards,” said Silva, who steered AHS to the Season 80 championship.
“When Kai and his family left the Philippines, their plan was to play in the EuroLeague for a couple of years before applying for the NBA Draft. I wasn’t really surprised by Kai’s decision since the NBA G-League Select Program is very similar to his family’s original plan,” added Varilla, Sotto’s head coach in his final year with the Blue Eagles.
“I heard the selected players will also be awarded academic scholarships. I think that’s the icing on the cake. I’m glad that Kai gets to pursue his NBA dream while also having a chance to earn a college degree.”
Besides being under the tutelage of veteran coaches and facing bigger players in the minor league’s new program, Sotto will be paid.
The 18-year-old is reportedly set to earn USD 150,000 while being allowed to have endorsements.
“Of course it helps that he will get paid a hefty sum while playing in the G League. That will surely help his family,” said Silva.
Facing high school and Asian-level competition, though, is a different animal. So for Varilla, Sotto needs to work on his strength to avoid being bullied in the G League and, hopefully, the NBA.
“The obvious answers would have to be his power and explosiveness. He’ll need to get stronger so that NBA big men won’t overpower him. I think he needs to be more explosive so that he can fully exploit opposing bigs with his perimeter game.
“As his former coach, I believe he needs to improve his perimeter defense. More importantly, I think he needs to work on his ball-screen defense. With pace and space being the trend now in the NBA, it will really increase Kai’s chances if he can show versatility on the defensive end,” he opined.
Unlike the normal route that will see a prospect get to play and showcase himself for six months, Sotto has to impress scouts in just five months. Safe to say, his margin of error will be much smaller in the G League.
But for his two former mentors, Sotto embraces pressure like this.
“Joining the G League is like having one foot in that NBA door. It will make it easier for all the scouts of all the teams to really gauge Kai,” said Silva.
“My message for Kai has always been the same — do it for yourself! Sometimes, he puts too much pressure on himself because he wants to make his family, his friends, and his country proud. But for now, he should just focus on reaching his dream for his own why,” expressed Varilla.
“We are proud of him as it is and will continue to be proud no matter what!”