Kai Sotto's path to the NBA? "Be happy" says NBA Asia's Barroca

Adrian Dy on Feb 03, 2019 06:40 PM
Sotto's path to the NBA?
Sotto was in uniform for the national team's tune-up game against Lebanon, ahead of the December 2018 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers window, and was given the chance to see the court for limited minutes.

One of the most discussed topics in Philippine basketball is the future of wunderkind Kai Sotto.

The 16-year-old 7'1" Ateneo Blue Eaglet is currently in the thick of spearheading his squad's quest for back-to-back UAAP Jrs. Division championships. However, just about every Pinoy basketball junkie has their own take on what his future should be

"Go play US NCAA Division I ball!"

"Go play for a European team!"

"Stay home and train with the Gilas program!"

When asked about the 2016 Jr. NBA Philippines product's path to the Association, NBA Asia Associate Vice President of Basketball Operations Carlos Barroca has a very unique and simple piece of advice for Sotto: Choose the option that will allow him to "be happy."

Barroca, who currently leads the NBA's basketball development initiatives in Asia, believes "there's no strict design for all of the kids," and that the rest of the world is catching up to America's perceived dominance.

"If you ask me basketball-wise, it would be better to go to the States," Barroca said during a recent media roundtable ahead of the launch of the 2019 Jr. NBA PH program. "But at the same time, we need to realize how many international players are coming to the league [without playing US NCAA Division I basketball].

"Just recently, look at [Luka] Doncic. When was the last time we [had] a rookie coming to the league, playing the way that he is playing? If you have the right coaching and the right environment, you'll flourish."

Barroca, who previously worked as both a coach and general manager in Portugal, went on to say, "If you live in a society where basketball is not big, yes you need to maybe go to a place where basketball is bigger. Because it is playing against better players that will help you grow up. When you play against players that are weaker than you, [it] won't help you become a better player. You need that challenge. But that doesn't have to be automatic that the place you should go [to] is going to America."

In fact, Barroca added, he believes that the Philippines is shaping up to be a great place for young talent to develop. "There's good basketball happening all over the place and I have no doubt in saying that there is great basketball going on in the Philippines. I mean every time I see basketball here either in our camps, college basketball games, PBA games - I can feel basketball getting better, every day."

One reason why Barroca believes staying in the Philippines is a legitimate option now is because of opportunities like the Jr. NBA PH program. For the 2019 edition, as many as five boys and five girls from the Jr. NBA PH National Training Camp will be selected to participate in the first-ever Jr. NBA Global Championship Asia Pacific Qualifiers, which features the top youth players from this region.

The top performing 10 boys and 10 girls will move on to represent the Asia Pacific in the Jr. NBA Global Championship, a youth basketball tournament for the top 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls teams from around the world. This year's edition of the tournament will be held in August at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, near Orlando, Florida. Such an opportunity would give Philippine prospects a lot of early international exposure against top-notch talent.

Online registration for regional selection camps is now live at jrnba.asia/philippines.

While Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson is currently plugging away for the Cleveland Cavaliers, most local hoops fans are still waiting for a homegrown talent to make it to the NBA. There is a good chance, given Sotto's combination of height and talent, that he could be that guy.

In November last year, former 2011 NBA Draft pick Ater Majok gave some positive words about Sotto, after the two matched up during a scrimmage between Gilas Pilipinas and Majok's Lebanon national team, saying, "If he works hard, I'm pretty sure he's gonna be there [the NBA]. [But the NBA] now is about run, jump, and shoot. So he looks like a guy who has characteristics for it too. He should be okay."

Through 13 games, Sotto has the Eaglets in second place with a 10-3 record. In just under 30 minutes per game, he's averaging 25.8 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks.

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