Sotto trying to stay humble with increased praise and popularity
ROSARIO/SANTA FE (FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018) - Kai Sotto's potential has already produced a mass following back home in Philippines and earned him a training camp spot with the senior national team. But the star big man is trying to remain grounded at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2018.
Sotto starred for his country at the FIBA U16 Asian Championship 2017 with 16.8 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game to get Philippines back to the U17 World Cup for the first time since 2014. And the 7ft 1in (2.16m) big man has been a force for the Asians, averaging 14.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the team's three losses in the group stage.
Still, Sotto is thrilled to be in Argentina playing at the global level.
"We feel good to be here and to play the top U17 players. We’re happy that we’ve been able to stay with some of our opponents and even lead in some games. I think we’ve proven that we belong," Sotto said.
Filipinos are well known for their wild love of basketball, which has resulted in more and more attention on Sotto. And as he improves, the accolades and possibilities grow as well.
He was included in the "23 for 23" pool of players with the group looking ahead to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023, which will be co-hosted by Philippines. That gave him a chance to work out with the senior national team, despite only turning 16 in May.
"I’m honored to be part of the '23 for 23' pool. I’ve learned a lot from my teammates and the competition, especially because they’re bigger and more experienced than what I’m used to," Sotto said.
And as far as expectations on him, Sotto is really just thinking about the games in Argentina.
"I don’t really pay much attention to the expectations. I just focus on doing my job here and contributing to my team," he said.
With the expectation also comes praise, and Sotto has been celebrated as one of Asia's best big men of the future. Sotto, however, is just trying to stay calm, humble and level-headed.
“I always remember to keep both of my feet on the ground and not to get carried away by the attention I am getting now,” Sotto said.
15-year-old 7'2" Kai Sotto from the Philippines has the potential to become the next big thing from Asia. Special talent who dominated the FIBA U16 Asian Championships. pic.twitter.com/KXSCyve3fg— NBADraftProspects (@draftprosnba) April 13, 2018
A big reason for him staying grounded is the young star prospect’s family.
“My father always tells me to put these things to my heart and not to my head,” said Sotto, whose father Ervin Sotto played seven years in the PBA professional league.
It was at those games where basketball entered the life of the young Kai.
“It started when I was just 3 years old while watching my father play in the PBA,” Sotto remembered.
The Manila native says he knew pretty early that the basketball court is where he wanted to be.
"WE'RE VERY EXCITED ABOUT KAI SOTTO. HE'S THE YAO MING OR THE KAREEM (ABDUL JABBAR) OF THE PHILIPPINES.”
“When I was 6 years old, deep inside, I knew I would be a basketball player someday.”
Fast forward a decade and some of the biggest people in Filipino basketball have their extremely high expectations for the talented young Sotto.
“We're very excited about Kai Sotto. He's the Yao Ming or the Kareem (Abdul Jabbar) of the Philippines,” said Ronald Mascarinas, the president of Bounty Agro Ventures Inc (BAVI), which is financing the Philippine men’s national team.
What was Sotto’s response?
“I used it as motivation to practice more in order to become a better player.”
Sotto still has loads to work on in his game and the player he is looking to as a role model is Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors.
“I am amazed the way he moves given his height,” said Sotto.
Speaking of height, the Filipino phenom says he’s probably not done growing.
“According to the doctors my expected maximum height is 7ft 6in (2.29m).
Regardless if he reaches that height or stays where he is, Sotto is already a major part of the future of basketball in his country.
"We are looking at Kai to be the foundation of the Gilas program," Philippines senior national team head coach Chot Reyes said.
Sotto however refuses to be fazed by the talk and distractions.
“Humility is very important in life,” said the youngster.
No, with all the attention and expectations surrounding him, it probably is not easy being Kai Sotto - the biggest future hope of a basketball-mad country. But he has been dealing with it in an excellent manner.