The path to the NBA: Crossroads for Kai Sotto

Raptors return to Canada after days of celebrating NBA title

Typical 16-year-olds dilemmas include who to bring to prom, what to pursue in college, which sneakers to buy for Christmas.

For Kai Sotto, however, his predicament beats that of any teenager.

Should the the 7-foot-1 basketball prodigy from Ateneo stay and remain as the cornerstone of one of the most successful basketball programs in the country? Or should he accept the million-dollar offer from high-profile Spanish team Real Madrid Baloncesto?

Kai Sotto at Batang Gilas

Taking it a step farther, how does this decision affect Kai Sotto’s NBA dream? The Season 80 UAAP Juniors Finals MVP has been vocal about his aspirations. He wants to reach the zenith of professional basketball and be the first pure Filipino to play in the NBA.

Real Madrid has long been a dominant force in the Spain’s Liga ACB and in the Euroleague. Considering the Real Madrid offer gives Sotto the much-needed exposure with one of Europe’s top-tier basketball teams. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers Arvydas Sabonis and the late Drazen Petrovic, once donned the Real Madrid jersey prior to their stints in the NBA.

Just recently, another Real Madrid stalwart was headed to the NBA.

Luka Doncic, the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Rookie Draft, suited up for the Pablo Laso-mentored squad from 2015 to 2018. Signed up by Real Madrid just at the age 16, the Slovenian swingman prospered as one of Europe’s finest basketball players of the decade. Originally selected by the Atlanta Hawks, the 6-foot-7 Doncic was traded on Draft Day to the Dallas Mavericks.

But what if Sotto diverts from the career path taken by these former Real Madrid players? If Sotto shuns the deal to play competitive hoops in Europe, will it compromise his NBA journey?

Ditching Real Madrid and deciding to just stay here in the Philippines won’t, by any means, hinder Sotto’s chances of reaching the NBA someday. Why?

Seven-footers Hamed Haddadi, Zhou Qi and even Hall of Famer Yao Ming all made it to the NBA without leaving their homeland. The NBA took notice of their talents playing in their respective local leagues and in international tournaments such as the FIBA Asia Cup and the Asian Games.

Kai Sotto, a mainstay of the Philippines’ youth national teams, is an obvious shoo-in in the men’s national squad even before he turns 20. Team Pilipinas head coach Yeng Guiao has invited Sotto to join the national pool currently in the running for a ticket to the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. With the national team, Sotto can acquire all the experience he needs thru international competitions, so as to garner attention from NBA teams and scouts.

Basketball is a global sport. With today’s technology, NBA clubs from the western side of the globe can easily track Sotto’s progress through videos and reports online. For statistics, FIBA has maintained records for sanctioned tournaments worldwide.

The Philippines remains as one of the biggest markets of the NBA here in Asia. With the frequent staging of NBA-sponsored events in the country, NBA officials and personalities can constantly keep in touch with Sotto, his family, coaches and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.

It’s a life-changing decision, indeed, for a young basketball talent like Sotto. Facing a “fork in the road” of his budding career, two different paths lead to contrasting fates.

But with proper coaching and guidance, Sotto may very well be our next NBA hopeful – regardless if he stays home or takes the next flight to Spain.

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