TIMELINE: Kai Sotto’s path from Ignite to implode
GOING, going, gone.
In an instant, Kai Sotto, the Philippines’ best chance to have a homegrown talent to be drafted in the NBA, has seemingly squandered his golden ticket after his G League team Ignite dropped him late Tuesday night.
It was stunning news, a dagger to the heart of the basketball-loving country whose hopes were suddenly vanished, the same way the 7-foot-3 wunderkind has curiously disappeared from the map as his usually active social media accounts went dark for more than a week now.
But before Sotto’s journey went from Ignite to implode, let’s take a closer look at how it all came to this for the 18-year-old sensation.
September 2018 — Rumors swirled that at least four European clubs were looking to sign Sotto. These clubs were later revealed as Spanish teams Real Madrid, Barcelona, Baskonia, and Estudiantes, and German side Alba Berlin.
Sotto remained silent as he kept his focus on his campaign with Ateneo in the UAAP high school wars.
PHOTO: Jerom Ascano
March 25, 2019 — After months of silence, Sotto announced his decision to leave the country, devoting his time and effort to become the first homegrown Filipino drafted in the NBA. Aside from chasing the NBA dream, the newly minted UAAP Season 81 Juniors MVP reiterated his commitment to Gilas Pilipinas.
In a press conference the following day, Sotto bared that he’s planning to train in the United States, setting aside the offers he got from Europe.
April 3, 2019 — Sotto began his journey in Atlanta under the guidance of East West Private and even had a workout with Andray Blatche’s personal trainer Rory Jones.
PHOTO: For My Family Youtube Channel
November 9, 2019 — Seeking to expose his talents more in the United States, Sotto signed with The Skill Factory, where he’d spent the better part of the next year while also making unofficial visits to NCAA Division I schools in the months to come.
May 11, 2019 — Sotto became the first international prospect to ink a deal with the NBA G League Ignite team, a brand-new professional pathway introduced by the NBA catering to some of the top high school recruits as an alternative to enrolling in college or signing up as professionals outside of the US.
Bluechip recruit Jalen Green, who is of Filipino descent and has had numerous encounters with Sotto in the Fiba World Cup and the NBTC tournaments, reportedly urged the son of former PBA player Ervin to join him in the select team.
This effectively scrapped his plans of taking his act to Europe.
September 1, 2020 — The select team began its training in Walnut Creek, California as Sotto met his future teammates, namely Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, and Indian center Princepal Singh.
They were later on christened as G League Ignite and was reportedly set to play inside the developmental league’s bubble for the upcoming season.
December 15, 2020 — Sotto and his group were reportedly opening his own sports academy, Kaiju Academy at Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill Complex in Hamilton, Ohio.
December 17, 2020 — The 18-year-old had his first reps with the select team, figuring in a pair of scrimmages against a team of G League veterans and posting 5.5 points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field, alongside 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, but also committed 2.5 fouls and 1.5 turnovers in his time on the floor.
In a short video during a press conference, the center stressed his commitment to Gilas, saying, “I will be joining the national team,” apparently for the third window of the 2021 Fiba Asia Cup qualifiers in February, although Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) program director Tab Baldwin stressed, “There are still discussons ongoing.”
PHOTO: Screenshot from NBA G League scrimmage video
January 9, 2021 — Reports indicate that the NBA G League will be holding its Orlando bubble, temporarily nipping Sotto’s hopes of making his seniors national team debut. Many believed that the now-7-foot-3 center would prioritize his campaign with the select team.
January 21, 2021 — In a shocking announcement on his Instagram account, Sotto said that he will indeed play for Gilas, favoring country over club as he misses the first playdates for Ignite.
His handlers at East West Private later confirmed that their party cleared the trip up and that the NBA approved his decision to leave for the Philippines.
January 26, 2021 — What was supposed to be a rousing seniors debut at home for Sotto would now be held overseas as Clark, citing the government’s existing travel restrictions, begged off from hosting the bubble, with Doha, Qatar coming to the rescue just days later.
February 2, 2021 — Kai and his dad Ervin came home, with the young prospect undergoing a five-day quarantine before joining the Gilas Pilipinas pool in their training camp at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba.
The SBP went silent afterwards, although Spin.ph sources confirmed that Sotto did come to the Calambubble with little fanfare.
PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
February 12, 2021 — The spread of the new COVID-19 strain in Doha also forced the Middle Eastern country to cancel the hosting of the said bubble. Fiba, later that day, re-awarded the hosting right to Clark in a still-to-be-determined date after the SBP extended another offer to stage the last series of games.
Curiously, it was the last time Sotto or his handlers went active on social media, advertising the sale of Kaiju Academy merch.
February 13, 2021 — SBP director of operations Butch Antonio bared that with the schedule for the third window yet to be cleared, the federation decided to allow Sotto to return to the US and hold off his seniors debut for Gilas.
February 14, 2021 — Like how he arrived, Sotto and his dad Ervin left the country with little fanfare as he sought to rejoin Ignite, who were already 4-0 at this point in Orlando.
PHOTO: Jerome Ascano
February 21, 2021 — A week after leaving the Philippines, Spin.ph columnist Homer Sayson reported that Sotto and his handlers have yet to reach out to Ignite upon their arrival in the United States.
This caused more questions on the hasty decisions his handlers made, with many fans adding to the uproar as the controversy raged on that even Kobe Paras leapt on the defense of the former Gilas Youth mainstay.
February 23, 2021 — The day the axe was dropped.
In a short two-paragraph statement, the NBA G League announced that Ignite and Sotto are parting ways.
“Kai and the team both understood the challenges for him to rejoin Ignite given the current international travel constraints, quarantine times and health and safety protocols. Kai will always be part of the extended Ignite family and we wish him continued success as he pursues his NBA dreams,” wrote NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
Now, the ball is on Sotto and his handlers’ court as to where the Filipino bet will take his next act.