THE ball is in the hands of Kai Sotto and the NBA G-League.
Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin has admitted he yearns to see the 7-foot-2 center suit up for Gilas Pilipinas but added it depends on Sotto and Ignite, his G-League squad.
“I think that issue is in Kai’s court. Obviously, we welcome Kai and AJ (Edu) anytime they’re available, we look forward to them being with the team as much as possible,” Baldwin said on the Coaches Unfiltered podcast.
“But that decision is I think with Kai and his team of people and where they see Gilas and his development and how much they see Gilas as an endgame for them or whether the NBA is the only endgame that they are pursuing and then everything becomes subservient to that,” he added.
Sotto, 18, is set to play in the G-League as a member of the pioneering team that includes the likes of top amateur standouts such as high-flying Fil-Am wingman Jalen Green, forward Isaiah Todd, playmaker Daishen Nix, and Congolese forward Jonathan Kuminga under former NBA champion Brian Shaw.
A former UAAP juniors’ MVP with Ateneo High School and a Gilas Pilipinas Youth standout, the lanky Sotto is among the key players being eyed to play for the Filipino dribblers in the 2023 FIBA World Cup the country is co-hosting with Japan and Indonesia.
Baldwin, who also calls the shots for reigning three-time UAAP champion Ateneo, is hoping it will happen, although he understands the decision is up to Sotto’s camp.
“We would love Gilas to be a primary endgame for Kai and I remember talking with Kai and he always said that he loves to represent his country so hopefully it’s going to happen and hopefully it’s going to happen more often than not but we just live in a world today where there are tug of wars going on for many players,” Baldwin said.
“These players, on the other hand, I feel sorry for them that they have the scenarios on their lives. You have to say that what they’ve done is they created more options for themselves professionally and that’s a positive for their lives and their families.”
With an all-amateur line-up, the nationals completed a two-game sweep of Thailand in the second window of the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers last month in Manama, Bahrain.
Sotto is bidding to become the first homegrown Filipino to make it to the NBA after a handful tried but failed in the past, like now pros Japeth Aguilar, Kiefer Ravena, and Ray Parks Jr., and collegiate star Kobe Paras of the University of the Philippines.
The son of former PBA veteran Ervin, Sotto left the Philippines last year to toughen up in the Atlanta-based The Skills Factory and was signed up by the select team last May 11.
Under the G-League select program’s path, players will be given a chance to play with veterans and be coached by experienced strategists like Shaw, who is joined by assistant coach Raasheed Abdul-Rahman and athletic trainer Pete Youngman, to provide mentorship throughout the season.
Sotto is only the third Filipino to play in the NBA G-League after Aguilar with the Santa Cruz Warriors in 2012 and Parks with the Texas Legends in 2015-16.