Because eighteen-year-old Kai Sotto won’t be eligible for the National Basketball Association Rookie Draft this year, moving over to Australia to play professional basketball is the next best option for him.
The 7’3” Sotto has accepted a spot in the Adelaide 36ers’ roster and will soon set foot in Australia by August in time for the Australian National Basketball League season.
This is the same path taken by popular Charlotte Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball, a former University of California, Los Angeles commit and five-star recruit, who chose to forgo college basketball amid eligibility concerns and play in the NBL for the Illawarra Hawks in 2019. Ball was selected third overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.
Sotto’s agent Joel Bell said they have reached an agreement with the 36ers, which agreed to take care of Sotto’s development and eventual and possible entry into the 2022 NBA Rookie Draft.
“It was kind of a surprise to our people when I talked to several teams and they weren’t going to draft him. So that’s off the table. So we decided to look for other opportunities for him,” said Bell on Zoom.
Sotto will get to join the 36ers once he is done with his commitments with the Gilas Pilipinas national men’s basketball this year.
Now based in Miami, Florida with his family, Sotto will fly back to the Philippines to rejoin Gilas in their training.
After that, Sotto will join Gilas for the last window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers mid-June and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia from June 29 to July 4.
“Playing for the national team is the top goal of any player or athlete in their country. And I’m just excited for what’s ahead,” said Sotto, who was named brand ambassador of PLDT-Smart Prepaid, in an interview on Zoom.
Sotto discussed his plans with Bell and his management team from East West Private, through CEO Patty Scott and executive Maria Espaldon.
Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas president Al Panlilio and Gilas Pilipinas program head Tab Baldwin also joined the virtual huddle.
The 36ers, who placed seventh in the NBL, welcomed Sotto through head coach Henry Conner and manager Jeff Van Groningen.
The squad represents the state of South Australia and is based in the state’s capital of Adelaide. The season will start in August and Groningen hopes that Sotto will be able to move over to Australia by then.
Bell explained that NBA teams won’t accept Sotto because of the league’s eligibility rules on young recruits, saying that a player must be at least 19 years old to qualify.
Also, a player must be at least one year removed from his high school graduation.
And while players do not technically have to spend a year at college, many see the eligibility rules as a way to force them through the National Collegiate Athletic Association system in the US.
A small handful of players usually opt to spend a year playing for leagues overseas instead because of this rule.
There are certain players who are automatically eligible for the NBA draft, like those who complete four years of college, or those who wait four years after graduating high school.
And there are those who sign a professional contract with a league other than the NBA, and playing with these leagues under a contract will make them automatically eligible.
Last February, Sotto was not able to play for Team Ignite during the NBA G league season in Orlando, Florida.
Sotto, who trained for a year in the G League, was not allowed to rejoin Team Ignite after he returned to the Philippines. He tried to join Gilas as it prepared for the two tournaments while preparing under a bubble in Calamba, Laguna.
But because the competitions in the FIBA Asia Qualifiers in Clark, Pampanga and in Manama, Bahrain were cancelled because of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sotto was forced to return to the US.
The tough restrictions that the G League imposed with its health and safety protocols kept Sotto from entering the Orlando bubble, though.
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