Kai Sotto towers above the competition for Batang Gilas
MANILA, Philippines – All his life, Kai Sotto never felt belittled—literally.
During flag ceremonies, teachers would call out students in the narrow corridor outside the classroom and usually shout, “Form a straight line. Find your height.”
While everyone’s busy comparing and figuring out where they belong, Sotto had nothing to worry about as he'd walk towards the end of the line.
The backmost part was Sotto territory. No questions asked.
“When I was in grade school, I always was the tallest in the class. Oh yeah, the back row was always my thing,” said a cheerful Sotto in an interview with Rappler.
True enough, Sotto might’ve had his hands wide open when the "time rain" came in the form of height as the 14-year old already stands at 6-foot-11.
Last year, his recorded height was 6-foot-9 and according to a local report, and his father is projecting Kai will continue grow to 7-foot-5.
“My dad is 6-7 while my mom is also a 6-footer,” said Kai, who is the son of former PBA player Ervin Sotto.
Sotto is a towering giant. But what a lot of people don’t see is his dreams are far greater than his size.
The sophomore Blue Eaglet Sotto started dribbling and shooting at the age of 4, and quickly learned how to maximize this advantage. Still, he concedes he still has room to improve.
“As a player, I need to work on with everything. I have not yet perfected any skill that’s why I need to improve on all aspects,” said the incoming Grade 9 Sotto.
One of the things Sotto shared he needs to work on is his speed. Unlike other big men who refuse to hustle, Kai is not only focused on posting drills but also is fervently training to enhance his speed.
“My height affects my speed whenever I switch positions with the guards but that’s one of the things I’m working on right now,” said Sotto. “I need to be at the same level of speed with the guards.”
But Sotto knows having weaknesses is natural and keeps his eyes locked on the things he could do with what he has.
“Inside the game, I use my height as a presence for defense,” said Sotto. “Whenever I’m protecting the rim, some of my opponents get intimidated by their shot selections. That’s really a huge things for me.”
Block, rebound, and score—those are the 3 things Sotto keeps in mind every time he’s playing in the hard court. So far he's been able to produce for Ateneo.
Sotto shared that being the biggest man most of the time boosts his confidence. “When I see other players get intimidated or shy, I get a confidence boost. There are a lot of advantages being tall.”
When Sotto stepped foot in high school, some tried to recruit him like De La Salle University and Chiang Kai-Shek but the center chose to be a Blue Eaglet, “My dad and I talked about not only enrolling in a school with a good sports program but should be also competitive in academics. That’s why we chose Ateneo.”
The first UAAP season of Sotto proved he could do wonders for the Katipunan-based squad as he was named Rookie of the Year with averages of 4.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Last year, Sotto was a UAAP newbie. This time around, he will face new challenges not just as a player representing his school but as as national athlete with Batang Gilas.
A towering giant with ‘puso’
“I am so honored because to be able to play for the Philippines has always been my dream. I’ll treasure this,” said Sotto.
Sotto is positive about the competitiveness of the Under-16 Philippine team as he told Rappler they were already able to adjust to one another in-or-out the court.
“Before we were kind of preserved and awkward to one another but now we’ve already built a sense of team chemistry. We’re now really close to one another,” Sotto said.
Their first SEABA game against Singapore kicks off at noon on May 14, Sotto is convinced the team is ready to compete for the championship, “We really prepared for this so we could win the tournament. We can do it.”
And because Sotto will most likely stand out, he has already set his mind to the expectations of people around him.
“I’m just a chill player inside because when I let the pressures come in, that’s the time when I’ll commit mistakes,” the lanky Sotto said.
Sotto promised to train more and bulk up to win championships for both Ateneo and the country.
“You can expect from me to get better and better. I won’t settle for a mediocre performance. I want to be all-out in every game and play with unceasing heart (puso).” —Rappler.com