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‘The coach talked to me before the game, I think there were five (players) whom he talked with.’

KAI Sotto joins the warmups during the Orlando Magic’s game against the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GPUNX

The anticipation and excitement of Filipino basketball fans turned into shock and disappointment as Kai Sotto failed to see a single second on the floor during the Orlando Magic’s National Basketball Association Summer League game against the Detroit Pistons.

The 7-foot-3 Sotto rode the bench from the opening tip until the final buzzer of the Magic’s 78-89 loss to the Pistons on Sunday morning (Manila time) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Although Sotto was in uniform and joined the warmups, he still picked up a DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision) as Magic coach Dylan Murphy opted to stick with the core bannered by lottery picks Anthony Black and Jett Howard with five-year NBA veteran DJ Wilson and Robert Baker II taking the bulk of the minutes at the frontcourt.

The 6-foot-10 Wilson logged 26 minutes and finished with four points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals while the 6-foot-10 Baker played for 15 minutes and registered eight points, two rebounds and two assists despite not being natural centers.

“The coach talked to me before the game, I think there were five (players) whom he talked with,” Sotto said in an interview with United States-based journalist Homer Sayson.

“He told us that rookies and contracted players will be given the chance to play, especially in our first game. Of course, they also want to prove their worth and it also happened to other NBA teams so it was really understandable.”

With Sotto being reduced into a mere cheerleader, the Pistons big men had monster games.

James Wiseman, the seven-foot center tapped as the second overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, fired 16 points and 11 rebounds while 19-year-old Duren registered 17 markers and eight boards.

Prized Philippine Basketball Association coach Tim Cone admitted that he was disappointed with the outcome of Sotto’s debut. He, however, preached patience, saying that the young Filipino will soon have his chance.

After all, the Magic still have three more games ahead in which they will face the Indiana Pacers, the Portland Trail Blazers and the New York Knicks.

“Certainly. I stayed up to watch it here,” said the 25-time PBA champion mentor, who is still at Kaunas in Lithuania together with Gilas Pilipinas.

“Disappointing. But just because you made the team doesn’t guarantee you minutes. I suspect they will get him on the court before it’s over.”

Norman Black agrees with Cone, stressing that the 21-year-old Sotto will soon have his chance to prove his worth before NBA coaches, assistant coaches, scouts and talent evaluators.

“I’ve been to the NBA Summer League quite a number of times and I’ve seen things like this happened,” said Black, who will serve as consultant of Meralco coach Luigi Trillo when the PBA opens its new season in September.

“They did get him for a specific reason and not just to bench him. I’m sure the coaching staff there would like to balance the exposure of all players.”

Black, who played for the Pistons before embarking on a legendary PBA career, said it’s not yet the end of Sotto’s NBA dream.

“There are six games in the schedule, so I’m sure Kai will get an opportunity to play there,” he said.

Trillo, who is also in Las Vegas to attend a coaching clinic, shared a more positive mindset on how Sotto should approach the next games.

“He should stay ready. His name might be called by the coach,” Trillo said.

“Obviously, we’re all disappointed, but still, he has a chance to prove his worth. All he needs to do is stay positive and not look at how many minutes he gets. It’s what he does with the minutes given to him.”

The NBA Summer League, according to Trillo, is a different beast as players seeing action here have all something to prove.

“Even Wemby (top overall pick Victor Wembanyama of San Antonio Spurs) struggled in his first game. I still believe that Kai can help his team and leave a good imprint on the game,” Trillo added.

“Let’s see how he responds and hopefully, he’ll be given the chance.”

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