As soon as he walked out of the elevator, ducking to avoid hitting his head, 19-year-old Kai Sotto greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake. Kai and the rest of the Adelaide 36ers were scheduled for an early pre-game shoot around at John Cain Arena. They were scheduled to play the defending champions Melbourne United who currently sits on top of the NBL standings. The media was granted a short window to speak with Kai. We had a conversation and Kai was gracious with his time.
Kai pointed out that he was overwhelmed by the support of the Filipino community when he first arrived in Australia, such that the number 11 Adelaide 36ers Sotto jersey has moved up to the top 4 highest selling NBL jerseys this season in Australia.
Kai was asked why he did not follow the same path like other young Filipinos stamping their authority in the Japanese B-League like the Ravena brothers Kiefer and Thirdy, Dwight Ramos and Kobe Paras, just to mention a few. It is a logical decision according to Kai, as the NBL is a competitive and mature league where Kai cannot only build upon his current foundation, but also shine. Kai stands at 7 feet and 3 inches with a wingspan of 7-foot and 5 inches. When Kai was 12 years old he was already 6 foot 2 inches tall.
We, as basketball fans need to remind ourselves that Kai is competing in a professional league with mature grown men, with some who have played over 150 games in the league at an elite level; some are former NBA players and seasoned veterans. Most of the players in Kai’s age group are still in college and are not exposed to the tough competition that Kai is exposed to every week.
Kai’s daily routine consists of lifting weights, training and conditioning, and at the same time being mindful of getting appropriate recovery time between games and training sessions. Being away from his family has not been easy for Kai. Family is his inspiration and he is grateful for the behind-the-scenes work and sacrifice that his parents and young siblings have gone through. Recently his father, a former professional basketball player, arrived from the Philippines and Kai is happy to have a family member by his side.
When asked, “What does success look like to you?” Kai confidently replied, “Ang goal ko ay makadating sa NBA, ako naman at the end of the day gusto ko ay gumawa nang mabuti sa pamilya ko at maka inspire ng mga younger generation na kaya din nila ma achieve yung goal nila. Kung kaya ni Kai kaya din nila.” (My goal is to make it in the NBA. I want to do well for my family and at the same time inspire the younger generation that they too can reach their goals. If I can do it, they can do it, too).
Lastly, Kai is finding the right balance of playing for his club and country; Kai is always open to playing for the National Team, but it always depends on the club schedule and if there is a spot for him in the squad. The 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup is co-hosted by the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.
The game between the Melbourne United and Adelaide 36ers had plenty of Filipino supporters wearing Kai’s jersey. Kai pulled some good numbers, 50% on the foul line, scored 12 points including a 3-pointer, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 personal fouls with a total of 19 minutes of court time. Even though it’s a loss to the top team, with Kai pulling those numbers, we are hoping that his performance impressed Austin Ainge, the Boston Celtics talent scout as he was spotted courtside. The NBL estimated that there were 600 Filipino fans in attendance, including the Consular officials of the Philippine Consulate General in Melbourne. Kai did stay to take photos and signed autographs after the game before rushing back to the airport to catch the flight back to Adelaide.
What is the take away message from the few minutes of conversation? Have a dream, have a work ethic to mould and manifest that dream, have strong values and a stronger support system; your actions could inspire someone to chase their own dreams.
Until next time STAY FOCUSED!
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