Decision time for Kai Sotto: NBA G League or college hoops?
Kai Sotto has a big decision to make.
And the NBA G League could be the next step in his bid to become the first ever Philippine-born baller to make the NBA.
The NBA's G League made a big statement when it signed top future NBA stars Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd, and now they're looking to add 17-year-old Sotto's name to an exciting line-up.
"I have a goal to get to the NBA and I know it's not going to be easy, I know I'm going to have to work for it" - Jalen Green
18-year-old Green also has Filipino connections through his mother, and he decided to skip the usual college route despite numerous offers from top US NCAA schools.
Green will receive a substantial amount for a year-long contract according to reports.
17-year-old Sotto is in a similar position to Green with various college offers on the table and international pro ball clubs also lining up to court the 2.18m (7'2) sensation.
Kai has spent a year growing, learning, and impressing in The Skill Factory (TSF) in Atlanta, Georgia.
And while the coronavirus outbreak has put the NBA and the G League on hold for now, it's decision time for Kai Sotto.
What is the NBA G League?
The G League is the NBA development league.
It gives young players a place to play and grow before they become eligible for the NBA - you have to be 19 and a full year out of high school to qualify for the NBA draft.
The majority of NBA hopefuls play for a college for at least one year before they join the NBA, but not all.
Some hold back another year in high school, some go and play professionally abroad, and some simply wait.
Olympic gold medallist Kevin Garnett blazed a trail back in 1995, forgoing university to join the Minnesota Timberwolves straight out of high school as a #5 draft pick, and many big names followed.
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Now that the rules say you have to be 19 and a full year out of high school before you play in the NBA, the G League is stepping up for basketball's in-betweeners.
Offering 'prep-to-pro' talents bigger contracts and a chance to hone their skills for the NBA alongside and against fellow prodigies, this is another viable option for the Philippines' great hope.
Jalen Green and Isaiah Todd are big names and the G League has raised the stakes offering bigger contracts to rising stars who don't want the college route, and to convince them to stay home.
“The NBA G League made a statement by raising the stakes and ante as it pertains to Jalen Green,” Evan Daniels, national scouting director for 247Sports.com told Forbes.
“They will add more names. The NBA wanted this to be a viable option, but they had to raise the stakes and the investment in the high school athletes. They did that with Green, and it paid off.”
The league learned its lesson last year when it watched elite American young guns LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton leave the U.S. to play in the Australian NBL.
Both are expected to be lottery picks in this year’s NBA Draft, which may have to wait until August or September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The G League wants to be 'The League' for future stars of the NBA, and Kai Sotto is part of their plans.
But not everyone has said yes to the League, 2.05m (6' 9) power forward Greg Brown chose Texas Longhorns over the G League in April 2020.
Will Kai Sotto go the same way?
Kai Sotto: "More chance of going to college"
For now, Kai continues to grow stronger physically and become a more complete basketball player technically at The Skills Factory in Atlanta Georgia and is keeping his eye on the prize.
"My ultimate dream is to make it to the NBA, and I think playing here (TSF) is the best plan to make it there." - Kai Sotto
"Every game is like a test for me, a time for me to see what I can do and what I can do more. So I just go out here, play my best, play hard and mistakes will happen but the next game I can improve on that.
"And I'm just thinking that my family are always with me so I'm just playing for them and for my team also."
But that was February 2020, and the world already feels like a different place just a few months later.
"Basketball is a religion to the Philippines"
The former Batang Gilas giant tasted some action in the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago in the Basketball Without Borders Global Camp mid-February where he once again underlined his talents.
Now that the G League has come knocking, it could be a very enticing offer to stay under the wing of the NBA, in its minor league.
But is the pressure to become the first full-blooded Philippine NBA star in a basketball-crazy country of over 100 million people getting to him?
Not at all.
In fact, Sotto says it's a great source of motivation:
"It's the best feeling because a lot of people supporting you, always there for you, so that is more of an inspiration to me to keep working hard and to make them proud."
He recently sat down with Bleacher report and laid it out:
"I want to show the Philippines is part of the basketball world" - Kai Sotto
"There hasn't been any full-blooded Filipino that has been to the NBA and I just want to be the first one and I just want to show everyone that we can also make it," he said.
The G League select program could be the next step up in making his - and the Philippines' - NBA dream become reality.
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