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Kai’s second chance

‘This is extra motivation for me to push myself. Their support is a blessing and a challenge to do my best and make them proud.’

Kai Sotto is set to use the FIBA Basketball World Cup as his launching pad to the NBA. | Photograph Courtesy Of FIBA

More than helping Gilas Pilipinas come up with a solid performance and earn a slot to the Paris Olympics, the FIBA Basketball World Cup will also serve as a ticket for Kai Sotto to make it to the National Basketball Association.

Sotto said seeing action in the prestigious spectacle at the comfort of his homecourt is a major advantage and it would help him come up with a solid performance that will boost his attempt to become the first homegrown Filipino to play in the NBA.

Playing in the NBA has been Sotto’s dream since he was a kid.

After a solid stint at Ateneo de Manila University and various international age-group events, including the FIBA U19 World Championship in Greece, Sotto tried his luck to make it to the NBA via the NBA G League.

Unfortunately for him, he got cut before playing his first game for Team Ignite and went undrafted in the 2022 Rookie Draft, prompting him to pack his bags and go to the National Basketball League in Australia to continue his NBA odyssey.

He had a couple of impressive seasons highlighted by a rare chance to play against Chris Paul, DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns in a friendly match. He, however, returned to Asia, where he suited up for the Hiroshima Dragonflies in the Japan B. League.

Over the summer, Sotto made a bold bid of reviving his NBA dream when he joined the Orlando Magic in the NBA Summer League. After getting benched in their first three matches, he had a solid performance in their fourth game before seeing limited minutes in the fifth that ended with a back injury.

Now with Gilas, Sotto is expected to use the tournament as his personal stage where he will showcase his talent and ability against the best players around the world right at home.

“Home is home. Every time I play here, I’m happy and I feel no pressure,” the 7-foot-3 Sotto said.

“This is extra motivation for me to push myself. Their support is a blessing and a challenge to do my best and make them proud.”

With a legitimate NBA star in Jordan Clarkson and World Cup veterans in Japeth Aguilar and June Mar Fajardo as teammates, making an impact in the world’s biggest and most prestigious basketball spectacle will be easier for Sotto.

In fact, he emerged as the third-best scorer for Gilas in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, posting 13.3 points in four matches behind naturalized player Justin Brownlee and Jordan Clarkson’s 31 and 25 points averages, respectively.

He was also the top rebounder for Gilas with 9.3 points while Geo Chiu and Brownlee are behind with 8.5 and eight rebounds per outing, respectively.

His mettle, however, will be greatly tested as he goes up against quality big men in NBA superstar Karl-Anthony Towns of the Dominican Republic, Bruno Fernando of Angola and veteran Luigi Datome of Italy in the preliminaries.

Sotto’s hunger to prove himself in the World Cup can’t be underestimated as his United States-based agent, Tony Ronzone of Wasserman Basketball, stressed that he will do everything to land an NBA contract.

“I would say his mindset is that is hungrier than he has ever been. Kai, I would say right now, is hungrier than before,” Ronzone said.

“He got a taste of what it was like being on an NBA roster. I feel if he continues to improve as he is, one day we will get to see him on the floor.”

Weeks before the World Cup, his father — former Philippine Basketball Association player Ervin Sotto — came up with a cryptic post, saying: Purple and Gold.

Whatever it means, the Los Angeles Lakers or the South Bay Lakers or the Sydney Kings, only one thing is clear: It’s just a matter of time before Sotto makes it to the NBA.

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