The Philippines' next great basketball star

Kai Sotto is definitely shaping up to be something special.

This is, after all, not your average 15-year-old in many, many respects.

Sotto already stands 216cm (7 ft 1 in) tall and was the star man for the Philippines recently at the FIBA U-16 Asian Championships.

The center was described by fiba.com as being the "tournament's best player".

Already lofty comparisons are being drawn.

Will he be the big new star to emerge out of Asia? Can he emulate Chinese great Yao Ming and go all the way to the NBA?

Basketball in the blood

Born on 11th May 2002, Kai Sotto is the eldest son of a professional Filipino basketball player, Ervin Sotto.

Little surprise then, that his love of basketball was instilled from an early age.

By 13, and having already sprouted to 205cm (6 ft 9), Kai enrolled in Ateneo Junior High School in Manila.

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

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

Quickly on the back of that success, Sotto travelled with the Philippines national side to the FIBA U16 Asian Championship in Foshan, China.

#pilipinas #basketball #kaisotto #puso ❤🇵🇭

A post shared by Kai Zachary Sotto (@kaizacharysotto11) on

On the international stage, Sotto did not disappoint.

Top point scorer in comfortable wins over Malaysia and Hong Kong, he helped guide the Philippines into the knockout stages.

Then came arguably his best performance yet, in the quarter-final win over Japan.

Sotto produced a monster of a game - 28 points, 21 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks.

The 72-70 victory ensured the Philippines bagged a spot at the FIBA U17 World Cup in Argentina later this year.

China proved too much for the Philippines to handle in the semi-finals, but another sparkling 26-point performance from Sotto further embellished his reputation.

As his team ultimately clinched fourth place, the center finished the tournament ranked as the most efficient player.

Commentators were quick to point out that it's not just his size that counts - Sotto shows an abundance of skill and a deft touch on court.

The Yao comparison

It's hard not to draw the comparison between Sotto and Chinese giant Yao Ming.

For starters, they are both centers.

By the age of 18, Yao was already 226cm (7 ft 5) tall - a height the Filipino is set to emulate.

According to his father, Kai is actually projected to grow to around 228cm (7 ft 6).

Yao cited his favourite player as being Hakeem Olajuwon - and Sotto is already showing off some moves like Yao's hero.

Have a look at this "dream shake" from the teenager:

Sotto has already caught the eye of the NBA.

At a Junior camp organised by the American sports league two years ago, Norris Cole of New Orleans Pelicans got a close-up look.

“He is blessed because he has something you cannot teach, which is height," Cole told the inquirer.net.

"If his skills match up with his size, he could be a very special player.”

Last year, Sotto spent time at the famed Impact Basketball camp in Las Vegas, which includes the likes of Sydney 2000 gold medallist Kevin Garnett amongst its clients.

He also got some court action with LeBron James when the two-time Olympic champion's tour stopped in Manila last September.

Future plans

For the Philippines, Sotto has already been included in the national team's "23 for 23" squad, training alongside senior players in preparation for the 2023 World Cup.

That is a tournament they will be co-hosting alongside Japan and Indonesia.

Before that, the south east Asian nation will be the venue for the 3x3 World Cup in June this year.

All in all, these are exciting times for the basketball-crazy country.

But perhaps the mostly hotly-anticipated event of them all is the arrival of Kai Sotto.

The Philippines may have just unearthed their biggest ever basketball talent.

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