Everyone knows about the height, the high-level footwork inside the post, and the shot blocking. Numerous articles and statistics have in the past two years have screamed about Kai Sotto’s strengths as a basketball player. Everyone knows. He is very good at this sport.
Yet, amidst all the hoopla about Kai’s skills on the court, what isn’t talked about enough are his intangibles as a player. Geo Chiu, Coach Joe Silva, and Coach Ford Arao have all gushed over Kai’s Basketball IQ. His smarts on the court have also been fueled by one other quality.
“Tingin ko magaling ako magobserve eh,” said Kai. “Hindi ako magaling magsalita. Pero magaling ako magobserve.”
Given Kai’s nature as a quiet person and his natural-born gift of being observant, you know that when Kai speaks, it’s with substance and reason. He wouldn’t let loose any critique without reason.
That’s why during the first three games of UAAP Season 81, something unusual happened, as if it was outside of Kai’s nature as a person. “Nakikita ko siya na sinisigawan niya teammates niya,” said his dad, Ervin.
From a fan’s perspective, it was understandable to see Kai screaming at his teammates whenever they commit a mistake on the floor. He was the unquestioned alpha of last season’s Ateneo Blue Eaglets, the one who held the most responsibility when it came to the success of the team. But his dad didn’t look at it that way.
“Baligtarin natin yung sitwasyon. Pag ikaw yung sinisigawan, ano mararamdaman ko as a parent?” his dad Ervin said then to Kai. “Magagalit ako!” For Ervin, it wasn’t the fact that Kai was criticizing was the issue. It was Kai’s manner of citing his teammates didn’t sit well with his dad.
“Puwede mo siyang murahin, puwede mo siyang pagalitan, (pero) hawak-hawak mo siya na binubulungan mo,” said Ervin then to his son. “Teammate mo yan. Pare-parehas lang kayo niyan. Kahit captain ball ka, pare-parehas lang kayo sa mata ng mga tao.”
Fast forward to Game 2 of the Season 81 Finals, and something happened again that caught the attention of the ever so observant Kai. His point guard, Forthsky Padrigao, fell to the floor succumbing to cramps with just two minutes remaining in the game. With the Blue Eaglets missing one man on defense, Terrence Fortea was left open at the top of the key, to hit the three that destroyed the championship hopes of Ateneo.
Others felt pity for Forthsky as he laid on the ground. Kai, however, did not feel any remorse. Instead, he was frustrated at what had happened to Forth.
“Kasi Finals na, wala ng room para umarte,” said Kai. It could have been deja vu again for Kai and his dad. Kai could have opted to scream at Forth in that moment while he was down with cramps. Instead, after the game, Kai held his teammate around his arms, and said privately what he wanted to say.
Being called maarte may have hurt Forthsky’s feelings. But at the same time, he knew this was for the best. “Yung mga sinabi niya, alam ko tutulungan nun ako para maggrow as a person and as a basketball player,” said Forthsky. “Sanay naman talaga ako diyan.
“Alam ko kahit ano mangyari, alam ko andiyan siya,”
As Kai is set to leave the country after the SLAM Rising Stars Classic, it’s important we look back at how he’s developed. Not only how he evolved from 6’9” raw prospect to the best high school player in the country standing at 7’2”. But also how a shy and reserved 14-year-old turned into a 16-year-old leader on and off the court.
The SLAM Rising Stars Classic will be held on March 31, 7PM to 9PM, at the Gatorade Hoops Center in Mandaluyong. The game will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports via livestream.