Kai Sotto made a huge leap when he decided to sign with the NBA G League on Thursday, becoming the first international prospect to sign up for the G League's pro program.
ESPN draft expert Jonathan Givony had earlier said that the 18-year-old Sotto is "a very skilled player and has a high basketball IQ" with "a good framework of skills to build on."
Sotto dominated the high school basketball circuit in the Philippines, winning titles and MVP awards, and was also successful in the international scene when he played in the FIBA U-19 World Cup last year, averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Givony cautioned, though, that the 7-foot-2 Sotto needed to work on several aspects of his game if he intends to break into the NBA, especially after his performance at the Basketball Without Borders camp which took place during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago in February.
In an interview with ESPN China reporter Coral Lu, Sotto said he has already identified some facets of his game which he needs to get better at.
"I think they're saying that I'm a really good passer, and that I'm a really good offensive player. But I just want to improve more on the defensive side," said Sotto. "I think I'm a good shot-blocker, but I need to be a great on-ball defensive player because the basketball today is much faster than the basketball back then. I just have to work harder and improve."
As mentioned in his announcement online, Sotto said he believes the G League is "the best route" in achieving his dream of becoming an NBA player.
"[I'm really looking to develop] my strength and confidence to play against professional basketball players here in [the United States of] America. And I think it will be a great preparation for me when it comes to the NBA."
Sotto will be teaming up with ESPN's top high school prospect Jalen Green, along with Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix for a team based in southern California not affiliated with any G League franchise. Sotto had met Green, who also has Filipino roots, when the latter participated in a high school tournament in Manila a few years back.
"He played in the Philippines twice and we actually met in some FIBA tournaments," said Sotto. "We're good friends. We talked a lot when he was in the Philippines. The first time he was there, he was the one who told me that I should play here in America."
Sotto knows he carries a heavy burden, representing the Philippines on a huge platform such as the G League, but he is ready to take on the challenge.
"It's really big for me and I think it's a great opportunity for me. But it's also a challenge for me to prove that Filipinos are great people. And when it comes to basketball court, we're great basketball players, too."
Sotto has already won over NBA G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim.
"We're excited to welcome Kai. We know how big basketball is in the Philippines, so we hope Kai is an inspiration to other younger Filipino players that aspire to play in the NBA, aspire to be in the G League," Abdur-Rahim told Filipino reporters at a conference call Thursday.
Sotto visited the University of Kentucky, Auburn University, and Georgia Tech and drew attention from European ball clubs prior to signing with the G League. According to Abdur-Rahim the G League won over Kai -- and their other recruits -- not through a single sales pitch, but a protracted information campaign.
"We want to make sure we try to identify players that are tracking towards the NBA, and if they have the right attitude, right approach," Abdur-Rahim said. "I think Kai fits all of those areas, he comes to us on the way to great things and we're happy to continue to be part of the process."
ESPN5's Paolo del Rosario contributed to this report.