Kai Sotto may be headed to the United States and Europe to pursue his dream of playing in the NBA, but the 7-foot-2 teen sensation remains committed to the Philippines' national basketball team.
According to Kai's father Ervin Sotto, being allowed to play for Gilas Pilipinas is an important part of any contract that they will execute in relation to his son's basketball career in the next few years.
"In the contract that we signed and we will sign in any club or in the U.S., our number one priority is Gilas," Ervin said.
The Sottos are set to leave for the U.S. on April 1 for a two-month intensive training before Kai suits up for Batang Gilas in the FIBA U-19 World Cup in Greece from June 29 to July 7.
"My dad told me to focus on the training in the U.S. because it will be crucial in the U-19," said Kai. "I had a hard time in the U-17 World Cup, what more in the U-19? I cannot let them bully me, that's why I'll take this training seriously."
Aside from the upcoming FIBA tournament, Ervin assured that Kai will be available to play in other international competitions, including the Southeast Asian Games, if necessary.
"Anytime that the Philippines needs the services of my son, expect that he'll be there," said Ervin. "Whatever (tournament) it is, my son will play because it's his dream."
The Samahang Basketball ng Pilipinas (SBP) has expressed its full support to the young Sotto's decision to hone his craft overseas and commended his unwavering commitment to the national team.
"We commend Kai for his commitment to play for Batang Gilas in the World Cup in Greece and in future international competitions of the men's national team, Gilas Pilipinas, including the FIBA World Cup here in 2023," said SBP President Al Panlilio in a statement.
Kai's next destination after the U-19 World Cup remains uncertain at this point. Offers from European basketball clubs are waiting, but the Sottos are taking their time before they trim down their options and ultimately choose what's best for Kai.
Wherever he goes, Kai is ready to take on the daunting challenge of carving his own path to the NBA. Many homegrown talents have tried and failed in the past, but this 16-year-old prodigy is not afraid to shoot his best shot.
"My dad told me that it won't be easy, but he also told me that you won't achieve great things if you don't work hard," said Kai. "Of course I believe in him. I know that I can reach my dreams if I work hard for it."