Philippine Basketball Association legendary imports Sean Chambers, Tony Lang and Derrick Hamilton had seen National Basketball Association aspirant Kai Sotto up close and personal when the Filipino cager played in the Summer League in Las Vegas.
A six-time PBA champion and a member of Alaska’s grand slam team, Chambers was with long-time teammate Jojo Lastimosa when they watched Sotto at work and although the 7-foot-3 big man had a decent showing despite the limited playing time given to him, the high-flying import believes the Filipino center had a lot of catching up to do.
“What I saw with Kai, the first thing I’ve noticed was like he was nahihiya. He was shying away,” said Chambers. “He’s kinda have a humble style of game. But you can see his quick reflexes, his shooting touch and he has that Filipino-style of competing in blocking shots.
“But he needs to be with the right people. He’s only 21. The size is tremendous. We know with him growing up in the Philippines and just surrounded by people so right. So he does have a good base. I’m now in the management team of Kai, but I would love to get him in one place and develop. He’s been all over. He’s been to Australia, Japan, the Philippines, G League. He’s been to a .lot of different places. I want to see him to one place in a year to work on his game and develop.”
Hamilton, the import Chambers replaced when the former got banned for life for testing positive taking marijuana during the 1996 Commissioner’s Cup, agreed with Chambers’ observation.
“He needs to be in an environment where he can develop,” added Hamilton. “That’s the most important thing for him, to be developed, define his game, his athleticism because in that (NBA) level, it takes athleticism. Those are the things that’s been missing, but he’s 7-3. You can’t teach that, but at the same time, it’s a job and you have to take it as a job,” said Hamilton.
“I think the kid has the IQ to make it to the NBA, but a lot of that has to come with size, speed and strength and I think those are the things that’s been missing,” said Hamilton. “To get these things, it’s a journey. He’s 20 years old. So, where would he be at 23 with the right training, nutrition and things like that as well as film study? I think he has ways to go, but he wasn’t afraid when he got there and he wasn’t afraid at the moment. I think that’s the most important thing. But right now, it’s all about development.”
Lastimosa was vocal enough that the road to cracking an NBA roster spot is going to be a lot tougher. What makes it tougher for Sotto is that the league is downsizing because of the big number of players trying to earn a roster spot.
“Tony mentioned about downsizing. It’s unfortunate what’s happening to Kai right now. If Kai was born 15, 20 years ago and he’s 20 years old, he would have been in the NBA. Now, being a 7-2 or 7-3, is not enough for you to make it to the NBA because there’s so much defensive switching,” said Lastimosa.
“Having said that, the only thing I’ve been looking for Kai for him to improve, is to get to a team I don’t care what team it is, but he needs to play 30, 35 minutes a game and he needs to play a lot more minutes to have a better opportunities to play and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. He’s not been doing that for the last three, four years. The last team where he had to play 30 minutes was in high school.”
Sotto didn’t play in the first two games, then saw action for the first time in the Summer League where he scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots in 13 minutes of play against the Portland Trailblazers.
Against the Boston Celtics, Sotto could only play briefly, before leaving the game with back spasm and wasn’t able to return.
Lang was also a PBA champion when he played for Red Bull in 2001 and has been in the coaching circuit the past 17 years, including being an assistant coach with several NBA teams like the Utah Jazz, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks, where he is now one of the assistant coaches.
He was was able to scout Sotto and the Orlando Magic team in the Summer League and shared his opinion on the young Filipino’s dream of making it to the NBA.
“The thing about him is he’s got size,” said Lang. “But it’s about development. Can he be a rim protector? Can he switch? There are a lot of switching in pick and roll. We don’t see many of that in his size. He needs to continue to work on that, more on the defensive end. We’re always looking for bigger guys with talent.”
“Definitely, he’s talented. He’s big. His body will develop at some point in time. He’s only 20 years old. He just needs to work on someone to do the right thing. It’s always about timing.”