Kai Sotto announced on Monday that he has signed a multi-year deal to play for the Adelaide 36ers in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) later this year, becoming the first Filipino to join the prestigious league.
Sotto, who is currently in the United States, made the announcement during a virtual press conference organized by SMART where he was introduced as the brand's newest ambassador.
ESPN Australia reported that Sotto will join the team from the 2021-22 season as a Special Restricted Player on a two-year deal, with an option for a third.
The Special Restricted Player rule allows NBL teams to sign up players from Asian countries as locals. Hence they do not count as imports in a team's roster.
The 36ers are a four-time league champion, and had a 12-16 record last year. The team played tune-up games in Manila against Gilas Pilipinas, the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the TNT KaTropa (now the Tropang Giga) in 2019. They currently have a 10-14 record in the ongoing NBL season.
The Australian NBL is one of the premier professional men's basketball leagues in the world that have featured several NBA players like Andrew Bogut, LaMelo Ball, and RJ Hampton in recent years.
The NBL is a nine-team league whose season usually runs from October to March. It has been used as a springboard by NBA draft hopefuls like Ball and Hampton in the past. Sotto had recently trained with six-time NBA All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire and Indonesian naturalized player Lester Prosper in Miami, Florida.
36ers general manager Jeff Van Groningen put an August estimate for Sotto's arrival, just in time for the NBL's preseason. He added that the team is flexible towards national team commitments, since many players from the team are also members of the Boomers.
"Couldn't be more excited to have Kai joining us," said 36ers coach Conner Henry. "I got to know him a little bit, and we explained our structure going forward and we thought he would be an ideal fit for us."
"We are delighted to welcome Kai to the NBL to play with the Adelaide 36ers," said NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger as quoted by ESPN Australia. "The NBL is one of the best leagues in the world and a great league to develop players like Kai Sotto who want to take their game to the next level by playing alongside seasoned professional players in a super competitive league."
Tropang Giga coach and former Gilas coach Chot Reyes described the NBL as a "tough league".
"Kai will taste great competition there - where he won't be the tallest or most skilled," Reyes said in a message to ESPN5.com. "If he plays well, good. If he struggles, even better. This is a necessary step in the pursuit of his dream."
Sotto moved to the United States in 2019 to pursue his dream of being the first full-blooded NBA player. He joined an NBA G League select squad, the Ignite, which also featured Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga. The teenager and the G League agreed to part ways last February after Sotto flew to Manila to join Gilas in the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, but was unable to play after the tournament was postponed due to quarantine restrictions.
Sotto also reiterated his commitment to suit up for Gilas in upcoming tournaments. "I'd like to announce that I'm very excited and very honored to be joining Gilas national team that will be playing in OQT and FIBA Asia Cup. Playing for the national team is top goal for any national athlete."
The Gilas cadets are preparing for the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers bubble set for June 16 to 20 in Clark, Pampanga, and the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers in Belgrade, Serbia calendared for June 22 to July 4. The FIBA Asia Cup is scheduled from August 16 to 28 in Jakarta.