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Kai Sotto charts course to NBA by going through Europe

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Why Kai Sotto decided to make a run at the NBA (3:36)

Kai Sotto will make a run at playing in the NBA in 2021 or 2022. Here's how he arrived at the decision. (3:36)

It's clear now that before he takes a chance on the NBA, Kai Sotto will be playing in Europe first.

Going to Europe rather than the U.S. NCAA is a route that not many players take. But in the NBA today, 65 of the 108 international players are European and that developing pipeline is one that Kai hopes to utilize.

His towering 7-foot-2 frame will obviously be his number one weapon along with his unique combination of speed and skill. He uses more finesse than brute strength and quickness rather than sheer force.

"He won't be like Zion Williamson, you know? He can't become like Kobe Paras who's really athletic. He's not like that," his father Ervin Sotto said during a send-off by Chooks-to-Go on Tuesday.

Ervin noticed that players coming out of Europe share that same same skill set with his son, which is why learning and competing in a European style of play, he believes, will benefit Kai in the long run.

Five European teams have been linked to Kai in the past few months: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Baskonia, Alba Berlin, and Movistar Estudiantes. But before he can earn a spot on one of those clubs, he has to make improvements to his body and his game. Which is why he will head to Atlanta in the United States to train for two months.

"The path that he'll take will hopefully get him to his dream. So the offers that are coming his way, to our family, we've been thinking about them very carefully," Ervin said. "There was a process, a lot of processes, it wasn't just an out of whim thing. We're looked over everything, all the possibilities."

Ervin admitted they haven't narrowed down their decision among the five European clubs.

"I can't say. Because I'd see something from one team that isn't in another team. I'll see something in one club that I won't see in another. So I don't know yet," he said. The Sottos will rely heavily on a management group to help them make their decision.

It has been a year in the making for Kai and his family to ultimately decide to take his talents west and try his luck there.

It started during the FIBA U16 Asian Championships in Foshan, China last April. It was Kai's first stint in FIBA competition and he stood out with his overall play. Kai, at the time 15, had the tournament's highest efficiency rating. He helped Batang Gilas to a semifinals finish and book a ticket to the FIBA U17 World Cup.

"When he played in China, I told Kai, 'This is your test for us to see how far you can go,'" Ervin said. "He played well."

After he got introduced to elite international competition, he continued to surpass all the hype and expectations.

"During the U17 World Cup in Argentina, Kai and I had a discussion. We had to see how he'll do here. If you play well, then we'll see our next steps," Ervin said. "I saw that he could hold his own. He started to get attention."

Offers from international ball clubs then started to arrive when he competed in his third Batang Gilas duty of the year -- the FIBA U18 Asian Championships in Thailand in August. Ervin admitted that he hesitated at first given that his son was up against players two years older.

"I wasn't sure at first if he was going to play or not, then we thought this was for the country. He had to play. And he really wanted to," he said. "I saw that he was able to compete. Though there were times when he was outplayed because his body wasn't that strong yet. But we all know that he'll get stronger later on. I told myself, I told Kai, he needed to get stronger. But I also told him I won't rush because that'll happen eventually."

When the offers started to arrive, the idea that his son just might be a generational Filipino talent started to sink in for Ervin.

"The offers came and I had to decide if they were the real deal," Ervin said. "We had to see them ourselves, feel them out as a family."

"I told myself that everything that's coming my son's way is serious and really needs to be attended to. Because if you really think about it, I can't remember in our history that a Filipino has been offered by European teams or anywhere else abroad, especially in Europe."

From a journey that started a year ago in China, Kai's next chapter will be in Atlanta. From then on, it'll hopefully be a spot on a European team. Then in two or three years, he'll try to be the first homegrown Filipino in the NBA.

"Whatever happens that Kai will go through, we all know it won't be easy," Ervin said. "There will be a lot of struggles, it won't be an easy road, there'll be times that you'll stumble, there'll be times that you'll fall. What's important is how you get up and keep pursuing your dream."

"I believe in my son that whatever is thrown at him, any negativity that he'll feel, his faith won't waver on his dream."