Philippine basketball

Kai Sotto, Jack Animam:  Doubling their way to career resurgence

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Kai Sotto, Jack Animam:  Doubling their way to career resurgence

RISING. Gilas Pilipinas stalwarts Jack Animam (left) and Kai Sotto prove their worth in the international stage.


After their harshest critics came quick to pounce on their struggles, Kai Sotto and Jack Animam show all they need is a fair chance to find their way back on top

MANILA, Philippines – Two towers of Gilas Pilipinas – one each from the men’s and women’s national teams – have recently been sizzling with impressive performances in the international arena.

The 7-foot-3 Kai Sotto and 6-foot-4 Jack Animam both entered this season at the crossroads of their still relatively young basketball careers. The two needed to have something to show for this season to salvage what appeared to be floundering career trajectories. 

For all the hype that came with being touted as potentially the first local talent to make it to the NBA, Sotto never really hit his stride ever since he decided to forego college and turn pro. 

An aborted stint in the NBA G League redirected to a detour to Australia where he spent two uneventful seasons in the National Basketball League. Under a coach who publicly told the media he was committed to the Filipino giant’s development but in reality never truly trusted him, Sotto averaged just 7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds. 

Sotto was also unable to display his full arsenal in the 2023 NBA Summer League as he played only two games and normed 3 points and 3 boards in 10 minutes of mostly insignificant play. 

In the Japan B. League, 23 games with the Hiroshima Dragonflies saw him registering better but still unimpressive statistics of 8.9 points and 6 rebounds. These were not the numbers that would make any NBA scout take notice.

There were moments when he gave a glimpse of his skill set, but these were few and far between. For the most part, the Kai Sotto prior to 2024 could be described as underwhelming.

His harshest critics – Filipino keyboard warriors who have made it their habit to spew hate and pollute social media with nonsensical opinions – were quick to pounce on Sotto, all but declaring he would amount to no more than an average Asian big man who would not cut it in the NBA. 

Animam, on the other hand, was skyrocketing to the basketball stratosphere after leading the National University to five UAAP championships. 

She played another year of college ball for the Shin Hsin University in Taiwan, helping the team to a perfect 18-0 record en route to bagging the University Basketball Association championship.

Animam’s goal was similar to Sotto’s: put herself in a position to be knocking on the doors of the WNBA. 

But she needed to prove she could hang with bigger and more athletic competition. 

Becoming the first homegrown Filipino to be signed as an import by a European ballclub, Animam established herself as the best player of the ŽKK Radnički Kragujevac in the First Women’s Basketball League of Serbia in 2021.

In eight games with Radnički, Animam posted a double-double of 20 points and 14.3 rebounds. 

Then tragedy struck. Animam suffered an injury that kept her out of action for 10 months. 

The Animam who came back was not the same one who dominated in Serbia. The confidence and the improved agility appeared to have been usurped by tentativeness and second guessing. 

There was a consensus belief that the Gilas Women’s would not have lost the gold in the Cambodia Southeast Asian Games had Animam been a 100%. 

When Animam resumed her pro career in 2023 with Toulouse Metropole Basket in the Ligue Féminine de Basketball, the top women’s league in France, she found herself riding the bench. 

Even a transfer to USO Mondeville in the lower division would not bring forth a resurgence in Animam’s production.

But Sotto and Animam have proven to be made from the same enduring fabric, like polyethylene – strong, resilient, long-lasting.

From being given up for dead, Sotto has resurrected his career to make even the bashers do a turnaround and start singing praises.

It all began when he moved to the Yokohama B-Corsairs at the end of December 2023. 

Japanese coach Taketo Aoki allowed Sotto, who at just 21 years old was already playing for his third pro club, the space he needed to adjust to the B-Corsairs. 

In his first 11 games for Yokohama, Sotto was on the floor an average of just 13 minutes.

Then on the weekend of February 10-11, Aoki finally unleashed the Kaiju.

Against recent East Asia Super League champion the Chiba Jets, Sotto came out swinging with 18 points and 10 boards in a 79-89 loss. He exploded the following day with 26 points and 11 rebounds to help Yokohama exact revenge on the Jets, 90-85.

Sotto has been scoring 20.4 points on an efficient 73.4% shooting clip and grabbing 10.2 rebounds in his last five games

These numbers are even more impressive considering he posted these against teams with winning records – Chiba was last season’s B. League runner-up; the Kawasaki Brave Thunder are bannered by 6-foot-11 naturalized Japanese Nick Fazekas and 6-foot-10 imports Rosco Allen and Eric Murphy; while the San-En NeoPhoenix have been one of the top teams in the B League this season. 

In his last six games in Japan, Sotto’s floor time increased to 26 minutes as Aoki fully integrated the Filipino import into the Yokohama rotation.

In between the tear he has been in Japan, Sotto showed up for Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers and became the focal point of coach Tim Cone’s frontline production. 

Sotto played his best two games in a Gilas men’s uniform and delivered 15.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.5 blocks in back-to-back victories over Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei.

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Tim Cone confident Kai Sotto bound to dominate Asia

Tim Cone confident Kai Sotto bound to dominate Asia

Over in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA), Animam was a picture of consistency all season long for the Wuhan Sheng Fan.

The 25-year-old Bulacan native fired warning shots to the entire WCBA when in her very first game, she scored 17 points and grabbed 17 rebounds against the Fujian Zhongten.

Over the course of 35 games, Animam registered a double-double 19 times. 

Her best game happened on February 22 in a 79-56 victory over the Henan Yichuan, Animam proved unstoppable, dropping 27 points while also collecting 19 rebounds and 4 steals. 

Animam had two games where she dropped a 20-20 stat line. 

In an encounter against Tianjin Guanlan last November 16, Animam had the chance to gauge herself against a legitimate WNBA All Star, and the Filipina center more than held her own. 

Ranged against 6-foot-3 power forward Brionna Jones, a WNBA veteran for the Connecticut Sun, Animam punctured the hoop with 20 points to go with 20 rebounds. 

Jones is a two-time WNBA All-Star and the 2022 WNBA Sixth Player of the Year. During the 2021 WNBA season, she was named the Most Improved Player and cracked the All Defensive Second Team. 

Animam flexed her strength in Wuhan’s 62-56 upset over Shanxi Tianze last November 30. In that game, Animam had her imprint on almost every aspect of the game with 21 points, 20 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks, and 2 assists. 

When told by Rappler that she is playing like the Jack Animam who slayed it in Serbia, she replied, “I don’t feel like the Jack who was in Serbia. The Jack now has grown so much from there. The Jack now is a lot better. Her mentality and mindset are now just different.”

Her numbers back up her contention. 

At the end of the WCBA season, Animam put up 11.4 points per game. She ranked eighth in rebounding with her average of 11.9 boards. She was also among the league leaders in steals with 2.1 per game. 

These fine showings from Sotto and Animam have brought them back in the game. 

In the case of Sotto, it helps that he has a capable point guard in Yuki Kawamura who knows when and where to find him. 

But more than that, Sotto simply needed the touches and coaches who believed in him and knew how to utilize his strengths. Aoki and Cone then coaxed the Kaiju out of its shell and into the hardwood where the potential is slowly becoming a reality.

For Animam, she too needed to reclaim the self-belief that she was capable of holding her own even against some of the top bigs in the international arena. With the renewed confidence, Animam rediscovered the double-double machine in her.

Perhaps, both Sotto and Animam simply needed a fair chance to show what they were capable of delivering. 

Animam captured it perfectly when she shared, “I am just aggressive every time I step on the floor. I am taking every opportunity I get and making the most out of it while at the same time having fun.” –

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