Thirteen year old 6’9 Kai Zachary Sotto from Las Pinas stood tall among other Jr NBA aspirants literally. (Photo by Jamil Buergo)
The recent Jr NBA/Jr WNBA presented by Alaska Regional Selection Camp held in Don Bosco Technical Institute in Makati City created noise when a young kid stood tall among other Jr NBA aspirants. Stood tall literally that is.
Kai Zachary Sotto, a 13-year old six foot nine kid from Las Pinas stood head and shoulder above everyone else in the venue making him an easy target to the eyes not only of his fellow Jr NBA campers but as well as several coaches in the gym.
This is Kai’s third Jr NBA stint already and he hopes to finally make it to the Jr NBA All-star squad at the conclusion of the camp. Slowly but surely, he continues to improve his craft to be able to finally make it to the Jr NBA All-star squad. In his first try in 2014, he only lasted a day in the camp as he failed to make it to the top 40 in the Regional Selection Camp. Last year, he was already the tallest Jr NBA camper at 6’5 but could only get into the National Training Camp. This year, he hopes his daily basketball practices and added hours in the gym would pay off to get a spot in the All-star team.
“Pinaghandaan ko po talaga ito (Jr NBA) ngayon” said the incoming Grade 8 student. “The whole year, everyday nagpractice po ako sa school. Araw-araw inaayos ko po ang aking shooting and dribbling. Nagpu-push ups din po ako” adds Sotto.
While his height is something to be fascinated about, it’s easy to point to his father where he got his height – and passion for the sport. Ervin Sotto is a six foot seven player who played in the PBA from 2004 to 2012. The former seventh overall pick in the 2004 PBA draft had stints with Shell, Brgy. Ginebra, Air 21, Alaska, and Petron. Prior to his PBA career, Ervin Sotto was a former mythical team member during his stint in the PBL and was known for his three-point shooting, which was a rarity for a big man. Currently, he plays for SCTEX in the Philippine Commercial Basketball League (PCBL).
Though it pains him to see his son fail to make it in the Jr NBA squad for two consecutive years, he could only give words of encouragement to his son. “Sabi ko sa kanya ganun talaga ang basketball. Lahat merong oras. Kung di mo pa time ngayon, ibig sabihin di ka pa ready. Kung di ka nakuha ngayon, pag-igihin mo next year kasi merong ka pang chance” says Ervin off his son. “Kung magmumukmok ka dito o wala kang gagawin, walang mangyayari sa iyo kaya take this as a motivation for next year”.
As a basketball player and one of the few tall players in the country, he sure knows his son has a special gift that no basketball clinic in the world can teach. And that is height. As a big man himself, he encourages his son to take advantage of his blessing and improve on his game. “Palagi ko sinasabi sa kanya, meron ka nang height. Yan ang hinahangad lagi ng isang player. Since meron ka na nun, ang gagawin mo na lang sisipagan mo na lang. Ang talent, nandiyan lang yan eh pero kung di ka naman nagsisipag para gumanda laro mo at complacent ka lang, balewala ang talent mo. Laging tinatalo ng masisipag ang may talent lang” encourages Ervin.
Off the court, Kai is very soft-spoken yet he easily makes friends. Being tall for his peers, it is highly noticeable that he enjoys making new friends and sharing a good laugh with kids who are a foot or two smaller than him. And this could be attributed to his parents who constantly remind him to be a good person to anyone. “Lagi naming pinapaalala sa kanya na napapansin ka ng tao kahit saan dahil malaki ka kaya be a nice person kasi minsan lang sila makakita ng batang kagaya mo na matangkad” shares Ervin.
Being tall especially at his age also has its downside. He has his share of getting ridiculed and bullied at times. But being a good natured person and raised by responsible parents, he just brushes them aside. He always keeps in minds what his parents have taught him. “Normal yun pagkakaroon ng bullies sa kanya” exclaims his father. “Lagi ko lang sinasabi sa kanya na pag binu-bully ka, defend mo lang ang sarili mo at yun mga nambubully sa iyo, di kasi nila alam ang ginagawa nila eh. Pagpsensyahan mo lang sila and as a good person, just continue treating them well”.
For his size, it’s normal that not only Jr NBA coaches are noticing him but as well as scouts from various schools. This early, several top schools with impressive basketball programs have already sent feelers in getting him. “Last year, naglaro po ako for St. Francis of Assisi sa Las Pinas. This year, not sure pa po” says Kai fuelling speculations of his impending transfer to another school. “Nandiyan po ang Ateneo, La Salle Greenhills pero hindi pa po ako nagcocommit sa kahit anong school” carefully says Kai.
Kai’s father, who also played for St. Francis in high school and college, says they are keeping their options open at this time. Kai’s determination to land a spot in the Jr NBA team is one of the reasons why they haven’t decided yet. “Sabi kasi sa kin ni Kai, Dad gusto ko mag top 10 sa Jr NBA kaya sabi ko sige walang problema. Kaya after mag Jr NBA saka kami mag-decide kung saan kami pupunta”.
At 6’9 (and still growing), this kid will surely be an asset to any team he’ll play for. With proper training and handling, he’ll surely go places. Once he continuously improves his game, not only his junior and potential college teams will benefit. Hopefully it includes the National Team.