Kai Sotto took a detour in his dream to make it to the NBA, taking a path that will run through Australia, but one pit stop remains in his journey.
Sotto will still be available for national team duty, declaring his intention to represent the Philippines in qualifying matches for the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) Asia Cup and the Olympics.
“Playing for the national team is the top goal for any athlete,” Sotto said in a virtual press conference arranged by his team on Wednesday.
Gilas Pilipinas is in the midst of qualifiers for the Asian championship slated in Indonesia in August and was granted a spot in an Olympic qualifying tournament (OQT) in Serbia in June. Sotto is hoping to join both squads.
The Philippines needs just one more win to qualify for the Asia Cup, but may need a miracle to gain a wild card to the Olympics via the Serbian tilt.
Sotto also unveiled plans of joining Australia’s National Basketball League, where he will suit up for the Adelaide 36ers.
Adelaide head coach Conner Henry said that he “couldn’t be more excited to have Kai joining us.”
“We’re excited not only [to have] Kai here but also his family and the people that represent him here in Adelaide,” said Henry.
The 36ers own four trophies in the National Basketball League, tied for third all-time, but haven’t won the top prize in nearly two decades. Adelaide’s last championship came in 2002, which capped a successful five-year stint where it won three crowns.
The team has said it won’t stand in the way of Sotto’s plans to represent the Philippines in international meets.
Adelaide general manager Jeff Van Groningen said Adelaide is used to working with the Boomers in the past as center Isaac Humphries and guard Josh Giddey also play for the national team.
“Our club works with the Philippine national team program,” said Van Groningen. “We are used to this, we have many players from within the Australian Boomers national team that are also Adelaide 36ers players. So we are used to working within the Fiba windows, we’re used to communicating with the coaches, we know the coaches very well.”
“If a player is a national team player, what it means is that he’s a good player. So we work around, and we make sure that both our clubs—the national club, and his professional club—are respected and we’re expecting that to happen, we know that it will happen on both directions,” he added.
Tab Baldwin, the program director of Gilas Pilipinas, said the specifics of Sotto playing for both Adelaide and the national team have yet to be hammered out.
“We’ve got to get our heads together we’ve got to do what’s best for Kai first and Kai’s got to drive his own agendas, … with his own passion for playing for the country and securing his future,” Baldwin said. “And I know this is a lot of, you know, double talk and almost evasive talk, but really we can’t give specifics right now until we really hammer out the details.”
Still, Sotto’s declaration gave Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio a reason to smile.
“I am glad he is committed to play for the country,” Panlilio told the Inquirer. “I wish for him to come in at least a month (post quarantine) before the Fiba Asia Qualifers which leads to the OQT in Serbia late June.”
“I am sure Coach Tab will collaborate with the Adelaide 36ers to find a win-win situation moving forward.”
Sotto’s new career path comes after the former Ateneo high school star’s foiled bid in the NBA G League, where a series of unfortunate events led him to lose his roster spot with Ignite, a team which featured prep stars like him hoping to get a foot inside the NBA.
“It was tough after [the G League incident] happened,” said the 7-foot-3 Sotto in Filipino. “Nevertheless I was really happy because of the group of people surrounding me [who] really helped me.” INQ
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