MANILA, Philippines -- Alaska coach Jeff Cariaso has seen how Kai Sotto has grown from the Jr. NBA level and now to the G League, and he is proud of how the towering teenager has kept chasing his dream of playing in the NBA.
Cariaso has observed Sotto's journey since he first burst into the local basketball scene at the 2016 Jr. NBA Philippines National Training Camp, and saw how he towered over his peers -- literally and figuratively -- in the Philippines and in Asia.
"During that time, when we were together in China (for the NBA Global Games in 2016), the reason why he was chosen as one of the All-Stars, it's really not just his height," Cariaso explained in a video posted by The Collective on YouTube.
"His height kinda allowed him to do a lot of other things more easily, rebounding and being able to give a team second chances. But you could tell already that he has the full skillset," he added. "As a big guy, he's able to dribble, he's able to make good passes, very unselfish. He knows when to make passes."
Sotto went on to play for Ateneo de Manila High School's basketball team, leading the Blue Eaglets to the UAAP title in 2018. He left the Philippines last year to seek further training opportunities abroad -- a move that landed him in Atlanta, where he enrolled in The Skill Factory.
He made a name for himself in the United States, earning a four-star rating from recruiting services and making unofficial visits to various NCAA Division 1 schools. But Sotto ultimately rebuffed offers from colleges to turn professional instead, signing with the NBA G League.
It is a move that Cariaso applauded.
"If I may say, I'm really happy that he got away from all the politics that's here. He could have easily stayed," the coach noted. "I'm sure there were offers here, where life would be comfortable here."
"But that goal of making the NBA was something that never tarnished. That was always there. I give it to his parents for helping him make that dream come true, and taking that step of moving to the States," he added. "That was crucial."
Cariaso is confident that Sotto's parents -- especially his former teammate, Ervin -- are doing all they can to prepare the 18-year-old for the challenges ahead. However, he also made it clear that Sotto will encounter an entirely new challenge once he steps into the NBA G League.
"He's already gonna be playing with the guys who are knocking at the door of the NBA," he said. "Don't get me wrong, he's gonna be challenged."
"This isn't gonna be easy for him because he's gonna be still that young skinny guy that's gonna need to adjust to the way they play," he added.
For Cariaso, what Sotto needs to do in order to hold his own in the G League and make an impact is to improve his strength and mobility. It is not a new sentiment -- even Sotto himself has previously said that he is working on getting stronger in order to withstand the physicality of the new competition.
"Understand that again, that this level is already guys that are knocking at the door of the NBA. So, the strength is important," Cariaso said.
"And … mobility, he's gotta be a quicker and a faster big guy," he added. "He's paint and be like the last line of defense, and to be there to help his teammates when needed. He's gonna be there obviously for all the rebounds, but I would say work on your mobility and be a little faster at getting to the spot that you need to."
"I think those two things are crucial to his position especially at that level."
Cariaso has no doubts that in terms of skills, Sotto will have plenty of help. But working on his strength and mobility will "allow him to be stronger and be able to withstand all the physicality, all the pushing and the holding, and still be able to get to the spot that he needs to."
"He's gonna be challenged with another group of guys, and if he gets to this, if he's able to showcase that he's able to adjust, and do what's expected of him as a big guy in the G League, then I see no worries and no problems with him being able to get an opportunity come NBA," he stressed.
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