Kai Sotto is knocking at the doorstep of his NBA goal.
But whether he makes it or not is just a couple of the many questions hanging as the 2022 NBA Draft looms.
Filipino in the NBA
Sotto is one call away from making history as the first full-blooded Filipino to reach the NBA.
The 20-year-old, however, won’t be the first of Filipino descent with that distinction belonging to Raymond Townsend, who was drafted 22nd overall by the Golden State Warriors in 1978 and played a total of three seasons in the league with the Warriors and the Indiana Pacers.
Two more Filipino-Americans in Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson and Houston Rockets young gun Jalen Green are currently playing in the NBA.
After leading Ateneo high school to a UAAP title and two finals appearances, Sotto went all in on pursuing his NBA dream.
In April 2019, Sotto left for the United States to train full-time.
Sotto was a consensus four-star recruit in the US and drew interest from NCAA Division I schools. He also received offers to play in Europe.
But Sotto opted for the unconventional route and joined other top prospects at Ignite in the G League.
When it fell through, Sotto signed with the Adelaide 36ers in Australia’s National Basketball League in April 2021 making him eligible for the NBA the following year.
In a surprise move, Sotto took his act Down Under.
Sotto played only one season with Adelaide but showed flashes of brilliance averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field in 23 games.
The 7-foot-2 center believes the experience of playing against grown men and the physicality in the NBL made him ready for the NBA.
.@Adelaide36ers center Kai Sotto (@kzsottolive) talks about what it would mean to be the first player born in the Philippines to play in the NBA and how playing in the @NBL prepared him to make that jump.#GoldOnTheClock pic.twitter.com/oAo5h51GZZ
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) June 21, 2022
Despite flying under the radar, Sotto was invited to a dozen pre-draft workouts.
The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and the Pacers were among the teams that wanted to get a first-hand look at Sotto.
“I would say I’m a skilled seven footer that can shoot from the outside. And I’m a pretty good passer at my height as well,” Sotto said when asked about what he can offer to an NBA team. “And I have a high basketball IQ and pretty good shot blocker.”
“[I] just hope to show teams what I can do and what I can offer to the team and how good of a player and a teammate I am. And I’m just a very thankful guy. I just really appreciate all the opportunities that are given to me. And if I get a chance to be on an NBA team, I would give my best and everything I have.”
In late May, Sports Illustrated placed Sotto at No. 49 in their mock draft. The Sacramento Kings, who also invited Sotto to a workout, hold the 49th pick.
But no other media outlet had Sotto’s name in it in their respective mock drafts.
Forward Jabari Smith out of Auburn and center Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga are the projected top picks in the class.
The Magic, who also worked out Sotto, will choose first in the draft set on Friday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Orlando also has the rights to the 32nd and 35th picks.
It’s hard to tell where Sotto goes in the draft.
While there is a possibility he might not get picked, there is also a chance that Sotto still ends up with an NBA team despite going undrafted as a free agent.
But one thing’s for sure, a young and determined 7-foot-2 prospect that has an entire nation behind him, will always have a chance at making it big.
The NBA Draft is scheduled for June 23 (June 24, Philippine time) at Barclays Center in New York.
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