MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino teenager Kai Sotto is already an impact player at the Asian level, though he still has work to do if he hopes to one day play in the NBA.
This, according to Meralco head coach Norman Black, who saw Sotto's improvement firsthand when the young center briefly joined the Philippine national team in its training camp last February.
Sotto trained with Gilas Pilipinas for a short period as he was set to play with the team in the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 qualifiers in Doha, Qatar. However, the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and rescheduled for June in Clark, Pampanga.
"Definitely Kai has improved a lot," Black told former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala on his show "Power and Play" last Saturday. "From his high school days at Ateneo, up to this point, he has become a much stronger player, a much more aggressive player."
"I was really impressed with him in the practices," he added.
At the time, Sotto was coming off a few months of training with Team Ignite, the NBA G League squad featuring other elite prospects including Filipino-American guard Jalen Green. He has since left the Ignite program and signed with the Adelaide 36ers of Australia's National Basketball League.
Black believed that had the qualifiers pushed through in February, Sotto would have made a massive impact for the Gilas team that would play against South Korea and Indonesia.
"I thought he would have helped the Gilas team a lot if he could have played the South Korean team in the tournament that's coming up, that was supposed to take place last February," he said.
"My personal feeling is, whatever he's doing in the States is working. He has improved his game a great deal, his strength has improved," he added.
"At this level in Asia, he would be a difficult player to deal with. I can tell you that much, when I saw him practice. And he's only gonna get better, he's still young," Black also said.
However, Sotto still has some work to do if he hopes to fulfill his ultimate dream of making it to the NBA. As impressive as the teenager was in Gilas practice, Black stresses that he needs to bulk up further and continue sharpening his skills.
"I'm not sure whether he's ready for the NBA at this moment," Black told Eala.
"I think he still has to improve more. I think he has to become a little bit more powerful around the basket. It's either he has to become more powerful around the basket, or he has to really perfect his three-point shot. One or the other," he explained.
"In other words, he's gonna be out there, stretching the floor like a (Kristaps) Porzingis or somebody along those lines, a guy who can consistently hit the three. Or he has to be able to hold his own better underneath the basket."
The NBA, said Black, is on an entirely different level but as it stands, Sotto can already make a difference for Gilas Pilipinas in continental competitions like the FIBA Asia Cup.
"Here in the Philippines, for the national team, oh, he would be a great help," the coach said. "I hope he can join the team, because he will give us a really good chance of being a powerhouse in this part of the world."
"He needs to train hard and continue to improve his skills if he wants to make it to the NBA. But certainly he can be a force in this part of the world," he added.
Sotto has already committed to play for Gilas Pilipinas in the upcoming FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in Serbia from June 29 to July 4, as well as the FIBA Asia Cup scheduled for August in Indonesia.
It remains to be seen if he will play for Gilas in the qualifiers that will take place in Clark in June.
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