A giant leap of faith for Kai Sotto

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What does the future hold for Kai Sotto?

Fresh from an impressive stint in the FIBA Under-17 Basketball World Cup in Argentina, Kai Zachary Sotto returns to the Philippines with heightened expectations reserved for once-in-a-generation type of players like him.

After seven games in the biennial showpiece held this year in the cities of Rosario and Santa Fe, Sotto emerged as the top scorer and rebounder for the Batang Gilas national team after tallying 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per outing.

Despite a 13th place finish for the Philippines in the 16-nation tournament, the son of former PBA slotman Ervin Sotto easily stood out among his Batang Gilas teammates with a double-double showing through the preliminaries, knockout stage and classification phase.

Now, Sotto is back to a familiar stomping ground. Four months ago, Sotto and the Ateneo De Manila Blue Eaglets were crowned UAAP Season 80 Juniors champions, besting the Nazareth School of National University, 2-1, in the Best-of-3 Finals series. Sotto sealed Ateneo’s league-leading 19th juniors crown with a go-ahead putback with 25 seconds left in the decider.

That game-winning offensive sequence – Sotto’s offensive rebound over a throng of NU players finished off with an easy short stab – could be a familiar sight in high school hoops.

At 7-foot-1, Sotto literally towers over local opposition in the UAAP. Save for his reed-thin frame, this young center has the physique and enough dexterity needed in order to dominate the juniors division.

Rare are these types of young basketball players with the unique gift of height.

At 16 years of age, Sotto has an eternity of basketball to play in the high school and collegiate ranks. The Season 80 Finals MVP may still have lots of hoops knowledge to acquire, but imagine how he would be, say in his early 20’s possibly after another growth spurt? And what if he develops a perimeter game, say a decent midrange jumper or a sweeping hookshot added to his arsenal?

Likewise, rare are these types of young basketball players with the unparalleled promise.

To continue with his progress, what should Kai Sotto do?

Staying in the Eagles’ nest and continuing with the growth in Katipunan is the smartest thing to do for Sotto for now. Ateneo boasts of a successful basketball program in the juniors level, with the Blue Eaglets winning 12 of 25 titles in the Final Four era. Not to be outdone, their counterparts at the seniors level are proud owners of six UAAP championships from the past ten years.

Kiefer Ravena, Larry Fonacier and Enrico Villanueva are just some of the Ateneo High School basketball program standouts who had successful careers in the seniors division, and had fruitful professional careers in the PBA. Similarly for Sotto, a path to the PBA goes through Ateneo.

But what if an opportunity to play overseas, say in the US NCAA or in Europe, crops out? He and his family should assess it as well, especially if the ultimate goal for Kai is the NBA. The training and exposure that the US NCAA or a European-type of game would further improve Sotto if the NBA is his preferred, albeit prodigious destination.

But if a call from the Gilas Basketball program beckons, Sotto should make himself available regardless where he ends up in four or five years’ time. Barring any hitches, he should be a shoo-in for the Philippine roster for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

So what does the future hold for Kai Sotto? More like, what does Kai Sotto hold for the future of Philippine basketball?

As most sports news’ titles would say, sky’s the limit for Kai Sotto.

(Images from FIBA)

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