By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
FILIPINO young prospect Kai Sotto will not be rejoining the Ignite squad in the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League but the league wishes the player well in his continued pursuit of his NBA dreams.
In an announcement made late Tuesday night (Manila time), the G League said that Ignite and 18-year-old Sotto have come to a “mutual decision” that the latter will not be joining the team in the league’s tournament “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, abruptly ending what was once deemed a promising partnership.
“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,” said NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim in a statement.
The G League head, however, said they appreciate Mr. Sotto’s time with the team and wish nothing but the best for him moving forward.
“Kai will always be part of the extended Ignite family and we wish him continued success as he pursues his NBA dreams,” Mr. Abdur-Rahim said.
Ignite included Ateneo High School standout Sotto in its team of elite prospects last year to compete in the G League tournament.
The team was looking to develop young players in its fold through a program that would hopefully prepare them for the NBA Draft and provide them with professional life skills that they could use in and out of the court.
Mr. Sotto, who went to the United States in 2019 to begin his NBA quest, joined top US high school prospects Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Daishen Nix, Isaiah Todd, and NBA Global Academy graduate Princepal Singh in Ignite, which is also boosted by NBA and G League veterans.
They were training under champion NBA coach Brian Shaw and Mr. Sotto was reportedly making progress with the coach even expressing excitement on teaching him and seeing the Filipino grow as a basketball player.
In a surprise move last month, however, Mr. Sotto said he was returning home to join Gilas Pilipinas’ bid in the third and final window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers to be held here.
The decision came at a crucial time as Ignite was preparing for its campaign in the G League bubble set for February.
Ignite though was supportive of his decision and allowed him to travel back to the Philippines and represent the country.
But the move turned out to be futile as days after his arrival, the qualifying window set for this month was canceled because of heightened restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.
The local basketball federation and Mr. Sotto’s handlers scrambled to send him back to the US to rejoin Ignite, but turned out to be too late amid the existing requirements.
As of this writing, there is no word yet from Mr. Sotto’s camp on its next move or what prompted it to leave Ignite in the middle of the team’s preparations in the first place.
Ignite is currently doing well in the G League tournament, sporting a 5-3 record, good for joint fifth place in the 18-team field.
Meanwhile, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) issued a statement following the exit of Mr. Sotto from NBA G League Ignite, saying it will support him in his NBA pursuit.
“The Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas will always be 100% behind Kai Sotto as he pursues his NBA dream,” said the SBP in the statement released on Wednesday.
“When Kai announced via social media that he wanted to come home to play for Gilas Pilipinas Men, we welcomed him with open arms because he’ll always have a home with us at the SBP. The same is true for any Filipino basketball player chasing their dreams on the international stage. Whatever may happen to their respective paths, they can always be sure that the SBP will be there to provide them a stage where they could perform for their Filipino fans,” it added.
The SBP further said it is saddened by the development, but believes on Mr. Sotto rising above the setback.
“Even at his young age, Kai has shown amazing grit and determination to pursue his dreams and we have complete trust that he’ll do us proud.”