Feature | Basketball

Kai Sotto: 16-years-old, 2.18m, and still growing... as is his NBA dream 

'Future of Asian basketball' and 'next Yao Ming' could feature for Philippines at FIBA World Cup as move to North America nears.

By Ken Browne ·

Kai Sotto has a lot to shoulder on his still slender frame.

The 16-year-old from the Philippines has been called 'The Next Yao Ming' and 'The Future of Asian Basketball', but he's taking it all in his stride.

"There's no pressure, I don't let it get into my head. I just focus on what I have to do." - Kai Sotto to ESPN

Making it to the NBA is the dream, and Kai is a player in a hurry.

"Time is of the essence... When should I start? When I’m 18, 19? That would be too late,” Sotto said to the Philippine Daily Enquirer recently, while helping his national team book a place at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

He may still be in high school in the Philippines, but at 16 years-old and 2.16m in shoes, Sotto's talent is too great to hide.

A reported $1M offer from European basketball giants Real Madrid, and big performances at international tournaments, see his name constantly hitting the headlines.

Right now Sotto is working with NBA coaches in Atlanta, who say he's improving fast.

How tall is Kai Sotto?

Kai Sotto's height is a matter of national interest and one of the most googled thing about him.

So how tall exactly is he?

Most say 2.16m (7ft 1in), or 2.18m in shoes. But at 16 years of age he's still growing.

According to his father Ervin Sotto, Kai is actually projected to grow to around 2.28m in the next couple of years. That would be taller than Yao Ming at the same age - Yao was 2.26m tall at 18.

It's such a topic of interest, that he was measured live on camera by ABS-CBN in the Philippines.

Towering 2018

Sotto is about much more than just his height. He's quick, agile and not afraid to take a shot for three when the chance comes.

This combination saw giant leaps for Kai last year.

2018 was his best yet, and the buzz around Real Madrid's reported million-dollar offer has only brought him into even sharper focus.

Kai goes to school at the Ateneo Junior High School in Manila.

Playing for their 'Blue Eaglets' basketball team, Sotto helped them to the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) junior title last year.

After averaging 17 points over the three-game final, he was named MVP.

It was straight to the FIBA U16 Asian Championships in April 2018 in Foshan, China, where Sotto made two statement performances against Japan and China racking up 54 points, 42 rebounds and 9 blocked shots in those two games.

The win over Japan sent the Philippines to the June U17 World Cup in Argentina where Sotto led the team to their highest ever finish.

He averaged 16.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 28.9 minutes in seven games.

Next came the August U18 Asia Championship 2018 in Nonthaburi, Thailand, where Sotto teamed up with another Filipino rising star, 2.10m (6ft 11in) Ariel John Edu

The 'Twin Towers' led the team to a top-four finish, securing a spot at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece in 2019.

But maybe the biggest milestone for Sotto was the call-up to the senior squad.

Senior team at 16

For the first time in a long time, senior national team head coach Yeng Guiao added a youth team player to the Philippines 20-player pool for the year's final Asian Qualifiers window.

Kai Sotto had the chance to train with the 'Gilas Pilipinas', and learn with the likes of Japeth Aguilar, Christian Standhardinger, and Greg Slaughter.

In a tune-up game against Lebanon in November 2018 he tried an audacious dunk over 2.08m (6ft 10in) one-time LA Lakers draft pick Ater Majok.

Majok had to foul Sotto to prevent the dunk, and the Philippine prodigy hit his two free throws.

The veteran later said:

"He’s got a bright future. I knew he’s young but I didn’t know he’s in high school. He’s gonna be something special.” - 2011 Lakers draft pick Ater Majok

"NBA not a given"

And what about the NBA dream? Majok had a warning for Sotto that nothing is certain, but he's doing the right things so far.

"Now it’s about run, jump, shoot. So he looks like a guy who has characteristics for it, too. He should be okay” said Majok, according to ABS-CBN, adding “If he works hard, I’m pretty sure he’s gonna be there."

Hard work doesn't seem to be an issue for Kai, who has his very own ex-pro at home to help him.

Kai Sotto's father

His father Ervin Sotto was a professional basketball player and has a huge influence on the Philippines' precocious young star.

We’re always open with each other,” Kai has said, leaning on his dad for advice and guidance.

But there is a mutual trust and respect between father son that provides just the kind of support that Kai will need for the challenges up ahead.

“It’s a big thing to have your dad supporting you.”

Kai Sotto to Real Madrid?

His father also confirmed the news that Real Madrid were reportedly interested in bringing Kai to the Spanish capital.

Interest from the Spanish team, who have been one of the dominant European basketball clubs in recent seasons, had been the worst kept secret in Philippine basketball.

The 2017-18 EuroLeague champions have a proven track record of bringing players through their academy on the way to the NBA.

Could Sotto take the same route to the big time as Latvia's Kristaps Porzingis and Slovenia's Luka Doncic?

Both went to Spanish clubs as teenagers and then both joined the NBA in first round draft picks.

Doncic went to Real Madrid at 13, played in the senior team at 16 and was third pick for the Dallas Mavericks at 19.

Porzingis arrived at Sevilla at 15, and was 20 when he became the New York Knicks’ first round pick and fourth overall in the 2015 draft.

That's not going to be Sotto's story at this stage, however. Kai's father confirmed he's staying with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets in Manila.

For now.

Kai Sotto to China in 2019

While he may not be heading to Europe in the coming months, Sotto is far more likely to be boarding a plane to China.

That's after the Philippines upset the odds to make the 2019 FIBA World Cup being held there.

It's the second straight World Cup appearance for the basketball crazy nation, who also made it through Asian qualifying for the 2014 tournament.

Filipino basketball fans have a lot to look forward to.

Kai Sotto's future is top of the list.