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Mike Magpayo shares difference between Kai Sotto compared to Paras, Aguilar

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Tiebreaker Times Mike Magpayo shares difference between Kai Sotto compared to Paras, Aguilar Basketball News  Mike Magpayo Kobe Paras Kai Sotto Japeth Aguilar

Kai Sotto has left such an impression on Mike Magpayo that the University of California, Riverside chief bench strategist strongly believes that the 7-foot-2 wunderkind would do well in the US NCAA. 

“I would love for Kai to be in the NCAA. I think Kai would do really well,” said the first-ever Filipino NCAA Division I head coach in Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ Coaches Unfiltered, presented by SMART and supported Mighty Sports and Choi Garden.

Sotto had either official or unofficial visists to multiple DI schools, including Kentucky, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. But last May, he surprised many with his decision to skip college and join the NBA G-League’s professional pathway program.

“My coaching friends at the higher levels always contact me. They want my help with Kai and [say] he’ll be good at the college level. So, this is new. They’ve never done this G-League thing, this is the first time. We’ll see how it all turns out.”

The US NCAA is an undeniably prestigious league, given its rich history and the part it plays in realizing the NBA dream. And in the past, homegrown Filipino players have actually tried their luck there.

There’s Japeth Aguilar, who transferred from Ateneo de Manila University to Western Kentucky University in 2006 as he dreamed of making it to the NBA — the same dream Sotto is trying to turn into reality.

And not so long ago, Kobe Paras tried his fortunes as well. After leaving University of California, Los Angeles, he took his talents to Creighton University.

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Unfortunately, both stints did not pan out. Aguilar, in 2009, went back home and suited up for Gilas Pilipinas. He came back to the States in 2012 for another bid to his NBA dream via the D-League, but nothing happened.

Meanwhile, Paras withdrew from the Blue Jays program after just one season, and then went to Cal State-Northridge. But he never played a game with the Matadors, and left shortly following the firing of coach Reggie Theus.

It’s not to say, though, that they did not eventually find their own successes. Aguilar would eventually become the star of Barangay Ginebra in the PBA, while Paras has found a home in University of the Philippines in the UAAP.

And it’s not to say, too, that Filipino hoopers are not able to make waves overseas. In fact, Sotto’s shocker of a decision has opened the doors for his compatriots to spread their wings abroad.

Last June, Ateneo product and the UAAP’s only three-time Finals Most Valuable Player Thirdy Ravena became the first Filipino to play in the Japan B.LEAGUE after signing with San-en NeoPhoenix.

That signing came days after Far Eastern University’s Ken Tuffin was drafted by Taranaki in the New Zealand National Basketball League. He has since become a consistent cog for the Mountainairs in the semi-pro league.

And just this July, five-time UAAP champion and Season 80 Women’s Basketball MVP Jack Animam joined Shih Hsin University in Taiwan as a foreign student-athlete. Finally, Ella Fajardo has been recruited by D1 school Fairleigh Dickinson.

All these events bring much pride for a country that eats and breathes basketball. But one can’t help but wonder — will we ever see a homegrown talent make some noise in the US NCAA?

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There’s no doubt for Magpayo that it will happen. In fact, he said that there are actually “tons of opportunities” for Filipinos planning to bring their act to America’s college basketball scene.

“Yes, there are opportunities. There are tons of opportunities here,” said Magpayo, who began coaching in the collegiate ranks in 2010 as an assistant to Kyle Smith in Columbia University.

But as plenty as such may be, the 40-year-old tactician said that what matters the most, really, is choosing the best possible situation, where one that could maximize talents the best they can.

“You have to pick the right place,” said Magpayo, who founded the Asian Coaches Association in 2011.

“You just have to pick the right place.”

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