Kai Sotto's journey to the NBA will start in Atlanta
Kai Sotto is the future of Filipino basketball.
That's old news.
What's new is that Sotto is heading to America.
Tuesday 26th March will forever be remembered by his fans as the day Sotto's father, Ervin, revealed that his son's journey to the big leagues will start April 1 2019 in Atlanta.
“Our first stop is in the US in Atlanta where we will train for two months,” Ervin Sotto told reporters during a press conference and at Mandaluyong City.
The decision to begin training in America was based around improving Kai's body strength, but after that, a permanent move to Europe after the FIBA U19 World Cup later this year looks likely.
Sotto has offers from five European teams, and at 16 years old and 2.18m (7ft 2inch) tall, a few years of Eurobasket could be the springboard the young Filipino needs to pursue his long-term dreams of playing in the NBA.
Kai free to go
The end of the season for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets, Kai's club in Manila, left Sotto free to take the next step towards making his hoop dreams abroad a reality.
"We won't stand in the way. If Kai wants to play in Europe or elsewhere" - Epok Quimpo, Ateneo Team Manager
Real Madrid is the name heard most often in speculation about Kai's next home, but their Eurobasket rivals Barcelona, Baskonia, and ALBA Berlin, have also made contact as reported by Sportando.
The Manila Times are also revealing that the NCAA Division 1 schools Texas (Kevin Durant's school) and Gonzaga are also in the race to sign Kai.
Kai's final match of the season for Ateneo felt like a farewell, and afterwards Filipino site spin.ph led with this headline:
"Silence emphasizes obvious: Europe-bound Kai Sotto has played his last game for Ateneo"
Back in Spain Real Madrid are also declining to comment on speculation about contract negotiations.
Europe is where Sotto's father Ervin and his advisers see Kai getting the physical and technical training that will take him to the next level.
Playing in a more demanding league is also essential to Kai's progress. The 2.18m star has far outgrown his local competition.
Kai Sotto: Europe the way to the NBA?
The quality of European basketball makes it a great proving ground for rising stars and NBA hopefuls.
It's been a stellar start for Doncic at Dallas too: In January 2019 he became the youngest player in NBA history to record three triple-doubles and in the same month won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
Kristaps Porzingis is another star who chose Spain as a gateway to the NBA. The Latvian joined Sevilla at 15 and was the New York Knicks’ first round pick at 20 years of age in the 2015 draft.
He made the NBA All-Rookie first team in 2016 and was an All-Star in 2018.
Is Kai Sotto next?
Kai Sotto's hero
Porzingis is Sotto's idol. The Latvian is currently the tallest player in the NBA at 2.21m and has shown the way for Kai.
The two have been compared before, and not just for their height either, many seeing similarities in their movement and skills around the ring.
International basketball scout Salva Mendez is very impressed with Sotto:
"I see a lot of things in Kai Sotto that could work in the NBA. Not just his height, but also his skill and movement. He shoots moves well around the court. He also seems intelligent, willing to learn and win. He's hungry." - Salva Mendez, Stella Azurra Basketball Academy, to El Español
Mendez wasn't the first to see elite talent in Sotto.
The Philippines' young gun joined the senior international team at just 16, and in a warm-up game against Lebanon in November 2018 he tried to dunk over 2.09m one-time LA Lakers draft pick Ater Majok.
Majok had to foul Sotto to prevent the dunk, and later Majok said this:
"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
Jalen Green dunks over Kai Sotto
It wasn't a picture perfect end to the season for Sotto though.
His Ateneo team lost to another talented young baller - Filipino-American Jalen Green - and his FilAm team by 90-67 in the national finals.
The loss came despite Sotto's 24 points and eight rebounds.
Social media in the basketball-crazy country nearly shut down when Green dunked over Kai Sotto.
Jalen Green on Kai Sotto: "He's gonna be really good"
Green later praised his rival, but also pointed out that physically he has a lot to work on:
"You can see that his body is not caught up to the game yet so he's still got a lot to go. I think he's gonna be really good and he just needs to keep working and getting stronger."
"Kai's young, he's got a lot of potential, but he's still got a lot of growing up to do." - Jalen Green
Kai didn't have to wait long to get revenge in this talented rivalry with Green, March 23rd 2019 saw the NBTC All-Star game which pitted Philippine No.1 Sotto against U.S. No.1 Green once more.
Sotto's Team Hustle took down Green's Team Heart 94 - 86.
Now, Philippine basketball fans are looking forward to seeing how Kai Sotto fares in Atlanta, and where the young star will choose to make his next permanent home.