Kai Sotto Signs With G League, Moving One Step Closer To Becoming Philippines’ First Native-Born NBA Player

Kai Sotto Signs With G League, Moving One Step Closer To Becoming Philippines’ First Native-Born NBA Player
7-foot-2 Filipino Kai Sotto is the first international prospect to sign with the NBA G League in its new professional pathway program. Photo Credit: NBAE

Top Filipino basketball prospect Kai Sotto, a 7-foot-2 phenom who turned 18 this week, has signed with the NBA G League as announced by league president Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a press release yesterday.

Sotto has traveled far from his hometown of Manila, Philippines to the United States, where he has been playing for The Skill Factory in Atlanta for the past year working toward realizing his goal of becoming the Philippines’ first homegrown NBA player.

With his new contract, he becomes the first Jr. NBA Philippines graduate to join the G League’s new professional pathway program, and moves a big step closer to achieving his NBA dream.

Sotto becomes the fourth player to bypass the NCAA system in favor of going professional by signing directly with the G League, joining consensus five-star high school recruits Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in the first wave of players to join the program.

Although Sotto does not share as high a profile in the U.S. as his new teammates, he is already a star in the Philippines, and as a highly-talented big man possessing a 7-foot-1 wingspan and 9-foot-4 standing reach to go with solid perimeter shooting, ball handling and passing skills, he seems bound to become an increasingly intriguing prospect, especially as he gets more exposure in the G League. (For more on his wide-ranging abilities, see my previous Forbes article on Sotto here, which features a deeper dive into his impressive skill set with accompanying video.)

In an email interview last March, Chris Ebersole, who is the NBA’s senior director of international elite basketball operations and has worked directly with Sotto, described him as “a tremendously skilled player for his size and age,” adding that “his footwork and ball skills are advanced, and make him a challenge to defend.”

And while Sotto has a wiry frame that will require additional strength and conditioning in order for him to bang down low with the NBA’s big men, Ebersole noted that “defensively, Kai uses his basketball IQ to his advantage, positioning himself well, and using his length to block or change shots near the rim without lunging or falling for shot fakes.”

When asked about Sotto’s qualities as a prospect on a conference call today, Abdur-Rahim, who has served as president of the G League since 2018, not only echoed Ebersole’s high praise of Sotto’s fundamentals, but also praised the quality of his character.

“We want to see NBA-level talent, a player that we are projecting and expect to go forward to the NBA – the work ethic, high character and the desire to push and be challenged,” Abdur-Rahim explained. “We want to make sure we try to identify players that are tracking towards the NBA, that they have the right attitude, the right approach. And I think Kai fits all of those areas.”

While Green, Todd and Nix possess basketball pedigrees which are more familiar to many American observers than Sotto’s, Abdur-Rahim and the NBA G League clearly take a measure of pride in the fact that Sotto’s development was largely cultivated through NBA channels.

“He’s been a part of the NBA family so far,” Abdur-Rahim said, “coming up through the Jr. NBA with us, and Basketball Without Borders, all of his coaching there and in the Philippines, so we’re happy to continue to be a part of his journey.”

That journey includes Sotto being named as both an All-Star and the MVP of the Jr. NBA Philippines program in 2016, his participation in the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp which was held during the NBA All-Star festivities in Chicago last February, and his representing the his home country in several competitions, including the 2019 FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup.

As for Sotto’s dream of becoming an NBA player despite currently being a relative unknown in the States, Abdur-Rahim is markedly optimistic.

“If you’ve seen him then you recognize that he’s made tremendous progress in just a short amount of time,” Abdur-Rahim observed. “So we think including him in our select program, we can help him make even further progress.”

Abdur-Rahim added that Sotto is “new to this system, so there are some people that may not know him. But we see this a lot with international players who are kind of new to our development system… so we see Kai as really having a lot of upside.”— Joel Rush / forbes.com

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