The Philippines has long had a love affair with basketball.
The game took off in the islands during the American colonial era of the early 1900s, but even after the country’s independence, the sport has continued to skyrocket in popularity. If sabong wasn’t the national sport, it would be basketball, hands down.
However, the nation has long fared poorly on the global stage, outside of the Far Eastern Championship Games, which the Philippines won nine times in 10 tries from 1913 to 1934.
But as lockdowns ease and the world looks to forward to a return to normalcy, there is good news in the Philippine basketball world: The nation could see its first native son suit up in the NBA for the 2021 season.
The player? 7’2”, 210-pound (95kg) Kai Sotto.
At just 18 years old, Sotto recently led the Philippine men’s national basketball team to its best FIBA Under-17 World Cup finish ever (14th place), where he averaged 11.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and led the tournament with 3.1 blocks per game.
While Sotto will presumably be a men’s team mainstay in the islands, he has now ventured across the ocean to join the NBA G League, officially signing on May 13, 2020. The job comes with training, access to high-level competition, and – most importantly – a paycheck.
Instead of playing for any number of US NCAA teams that had expressed interest in offering the consensus 4-star recruit an athletic scholarship, Sotto decided to fast-track his dreams, foregoing those offers in favor of playing out the remaining year of his NBA “ineligibility” in the league’s developmental program.
In the US, the NBA has a rule that any player that enters the draft must be one year removed – by age (typically 18) – from high school basketball.
This has fostered criticism of the NCAA’s “one and done” blight, where obviously gifted, professional-level athletes are effectively forced into colleges to play for free before they can join the world’s most lucrative pro league.
As you can see from the current NBA odds for the 2019-2020 season, the top teams in the league have players that either entered the NBA before that rule was implemented (i.e. the LA Lakers’ LeBron James) or played out their eligibility “commitments” elsewhere, like reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. This trend is common in the NBA, and if Sotto is successful, there’s no telling which team could find itself high atop the boards with his addition after next season.
Current 2020 NBA Championship Odds
- Los Angeles Lakers +210
- Milwaukee Bucks +275
- Los Angeles Clippers +300
- Boston Celtics +1200
- Houston Rockets +2000
- Denver Nuggets +2500
- Toronto Raptors +2500
- Utah Jazz +3000
- Philadelphia 76ers +3300
- Miami Heat +4000
- Dallas Mavericks +5000
- Brooklyn Nets +7500
- Indiana Pacers +7500
- Oklahoma City Thunder +10000
- New Orleans Pelicans +15000
- Memphis Grizzlies +25000
- Portland Trail Blazers +25000
- Orlando Magic +50000
- San Antonio Spurs +50000
- Phoenix Suns +100000
- Sacramento Kings +100000
While the above NCAA rule is on continuously more shaky ground, there’s no telling how long it will last, and Sotto clearly wasn’t willing to risk injury playing for free while he could better develop his skills at a more elite level.
Naturally, Sotto’s potential as a scoring big man is sky high (literally!), but he’s not a lock for the NBA by any means. As with any tall, lanky teen, the foundation is there, but one of Sotto’s main training goals is add size to his frame.
At the Atlanta-based Skill Factory in Georgia, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Per Alaska (PBA) coach Jeff Cariaso, Sotto’s strength and speed are paramount:
“Understand…that [the G League] is already guys that are knocking at the door of the NBA. So, the strength is important. And … mobility, he’s gotta be a quicker and a faster big guy. He’s paint and [will] 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.”
“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.”
For fans, if Sotto is successful and makes a name for himself in the NBA, he could be on a trajectory of stardom not unlike Manny Pacquiao or Nonito Donaire.
For bettors, Sotto’s mere presence in the NBA could boost basketball betting in the Philippines to new heights.
Of course, there is another factor to consider in Sotto’s move to the G League: the Wuhan coronavirus.
There is no guarantee in the United States that fall basketball will be up and running on the collegiate circuit, and in the Philippines, the PSC has put all professional athletes on notice that their leagues would not reopen until there is a coronavirus vaccine.
Regardless of Sotto’s intentions, one thing is clear: With any luck, Philippine basketball fans will have a new player and team to bet on in 2021-2022.
Of course, there is the small matter of where to place those bets.
In the Philippines, online sports betting (and all online gambling) is unavailable to residents, as POGOs are exclusively aimed at offshore gamblers from China and other nations.
That said, betting on sports online is not expressly unlawful in the islands, and bettors can join any of several top-rated offshore sportsbooks of their own.
Sites like MyBookie, 5Dimes, and BetOnline all accept residents of the Philippines, and they offer NBA odds and other international lines on which to wager. These books are free to join, have been operating in the islands for years, and provide legitimate, safe betting services.
Hopefully, they’ll soon be offering Kai Sotto basketball odds, too.