16 years old and 2.18m: Filipino Kai Sotto’s hoop dreams

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Sixteen years old and 2.18m (7-foot-2). Kai Sotto is Asian basketball’s next big thing.

He’s already a household name in basketball crazy Philippines and his performances at the recent FIBA U18 Asian Championship have only raised the hype.

The Philipines made it to the final four of the tournament thanks in large part to their rising star and this stomping quarter-finals display against Bahrain:

 

The Batang Gilas got the better of Bahrain, 67-52, in Thailand with Sotto netting 21 points.

Undefeated and the top-seed in the group stages, the Filipinos automatically advanced to the quarter-finals of the 2018 FIBA Asia Under-18 Championship.

The semi-finals were a step too far for Kai & Co. coming up against eventual winners Australia.

But a final four finish means that the team qualifies for the FIBA U19 World Cup next year.

It’s the first time the national team has made the U19 finals since 1979!

Kai the next Yao?

Sotto has been called The Next Yao Ming and NBA scouts have been tracking his progress for some time.

The comparison is no surprise considering that both are centers and both are tall. Very tall.

By the age of 18, Yao was already 226cm (7 ft 5) tall – a height the Filipino is set to reach too.

According to his father, Sotto is actually projected to grow to around 228cm (7 ft 6).

National obsession

Millions of hoop dreams are born every day from the beaches of Palawan to the backstreets of Manila and the Cebu.

This nation of 7,107 islands is united in their love of the game.

It isn’t a recent phenomenon either; the Philippines is reportedly the third largest basketball market after the USA and China.

You’ll find kids playing everywhere they can hang a ring and it’s been that way since 1898 when U.S. colonisers brought the game to Filipino shores.

Since then the school system has nurtured the game and basketball is in the blood.

The Olympic Channel took a trip to the capital to find out more about the countries’ enduring love affair with the court:

Blood type basketball

A source of national pride all the way back to 1913 when the country won the basketball title at the Far Eastern Games, there has been much success since.

The Philippines won bronze at the 1960 FIBA World Championship, the highest finish to date of any Asian nation in the games (now the FIBA World Cup).

Then in 1975 the first professional basketball league outside the U.S was founded by the Philippine Basketball Association.

Not bad for a country with an average male height of 163.5m or 5’4″.

That’s never stopped Filipino ballers before and a nickname you’ll often hear for national teams includes the Tagalog adjective Gilas which can be translated as pride or energy.

It reflects the mentality and the energy of the Philippine people, a region that may not be filled with freakishly tall athletes, but who are happy to battle against the odds.

Now the country has a new source of pride and hope, he’s sixteen years old and 7-foot-2.

Kai Sotto may be the next big thing in and ready to take Filipino basketball to all new heights.

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Author: Ken Browne
Ken Browne is a multimedia journalist for the Olympic Channel.