Why Kai Sotto can't join 2021 NBA Rookie Draft

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2021 03:41 PM | Updated as of Apr 22 2021 03:08 PM

Why Kai Sotto can't join 2021 NBA Rookie Draft 1
Gilas Pilipinas center Kai Sotto. FIBA.basketball​

MANILA, Philippines -- When Kai Sotto left the NBA G League's Ignite program, one of the biggest questions was how it would affect his draft stock.

In Ignite, the NBA's professional pathway program, Sotto received coaching both on and off the court that was meant to prepare him for a career in the NBA. However, Sotto and Ignite came to a "mutual decision" in February that he would no longer join the program. 

As it turns out, Sotto would not have been eligible for the upcoming NBA Rookie Draft, even if he stayed with Team Ignite. 

According to Patty Scott, chief executive of East West Private which manages Sotto, it was established through NBA agent Sarah Espaldon that Sotto is only eligible for the NBA Rookie Draft starting 2022.

"To remind everyone, actually, he just graduated from high school a few weeks ago, and with the help of NBA agent Sarah Espaldon… (We) determined exactly his eligibility. And therefore the announcement that we have now is that he actually was not eligible for the 2021 Draft," Scott explained in a media roundtable on Wednesday. 

"He is eligible starting a year after his graduation class, in the year 2022," she added.

NBA eligibility rules state that a player must be at least 19 years old on the calendar year of the draft, and must also be one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. Given that Sotto only graduated high school a few weeks ago, this makes him ineligible to declare for the NBA Draft this year. 

For the teenager, it was a sign from God.

"Sinasabi sa akin ng tatay ko na everything happens for a reason," said Sotto. "Kaya ibibigay 'yan sa 'yo ni God dahil may mas maganda siyang ihahain para sa 'yo. So, naniniwala ako doon."

"And sa tingin ko isang sign 'yun para sa akin na, parang sinasabi rin ni God na hindi ka pa ready. Kailangan mo pang maghanda pa lalo," he added. "So, binigyan ako ng chance na magpagaling pa lalo at magpalakas pa, kaya pagdating sa time na magpapa-draft ako, confident na ako sa sarili ko, na ready na ako para doon."

To better prepare himself for the NBA Rookie Draft next year, Sotto will play for the Adelaide 36ers in Australia's National Basketball League. He will also suit up for the Philippine national team in various FIBA events, including the upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia in late June. 

Had Sotto been eligible for the NBA Draft this year, his agent Joel Bell is confident that he would have been selected. This, even as mock drafts for 2021 barely featured Sotto.

"As his NBA agent, I had talks with several teams, and he was going to be drafted. Several teams had said they were going to draft him," Bell revealed. "We don't know what spot yet, 'cause he hasn't gotten that far with still quite a ways to the draft."

According to Bell, NBA teams were high on Sotto because of his skills and his potential. Specifically, the agent pointed to Sotto's passing ability as something that caught the attention of scouts.

"His basketball IQ, how he just has a knack for being in the right place, and his passing acumen, really terrific and it bodes well for the future," said Bell. "So the NBA teams almost universally were like, 'He's got a great future.' Sure, like every other 17 or 18 year old, (he) needs to get a little stronger."

"But, he's got a terrific future, and they were very excited. That's why I had multiple teams say, 'We're drafting him.' But … it was too early, of course, to figure out exactly where. But he was definitely getting drafted," he added.

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