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    Kai Sotto surprised by sudden popularity, but takes it as challenge to live up to promise

    Apr 16, 2016
    Kai Sotto grew up being around PBA stars like Cyrus Baguio, Sonny Thoss and his Ninong Ranidel (De Ocampo) and now constantly gets advice from NLEX star Asi Taulava and import Al Thornton. Snow Badua

    EXCEPT for his height which is quite rare for a Filipino, Kai Zachary Sotto looked and sounded like any other kid, shyly answering questions and ducking those he found awkward.

    But a 13 year old who stands 6-foot-9 can only escape attention for so long, and Kai admitted he was surprised by the sudden curiousity about him on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from people who see him as the next big thing in Philippine basketball.

    "Marami po akong ka-klase na nagte-text po, sabi nga nila na nakikita nga raw po nila ako sa social media. Wala po kasi ako Facebook, ayaw ni mommy. Pero nakakahiya po pag-inaasar nila ko," Sotto said smiling.

    "Masaya po ako (sa recognition) pero nahihiya po ako," he added. "Pero di po ako sikat, at kahit di po ako sumikat basta paghihirapan ko na i-improve sarili ko."

    For someone so young, Sotto has a clear idea on what he should do: work hard to live up to the promise.

    "Mas gusto ko po tuloy patunayan ngayon sa mga tao na umaasa sa akin na kaya ko (abutin pangarap ko). Ayaw ko pong lumaki na butaw (all height, no talent)," he said.

    [See Teen prodigy Kai Sotto dreams of making it to NBA, idolizes Garnett]

    Unlike other kids who had to be forced to play basketball because of their size, Sotto embracing the game came almost naturally, having grown up around the game because of his dad Ervin - a seven-year PBA veteran who had stints for teams like Alaska and Purefoods.

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    Kai grew up around PBA stars like Cyrus Baguio, Sonny Thoss and his Ninong Ranidel De Ocampo and started playing the game with much older men in their neighborhood in Las Pinas.

    "Araw-araw lang po ako naglalaro sa may court sa amin sa Manuela (Las Pinas). Tapos po mga kalaro ko mga may edad na, kaya sanay na rin po ako sa banggaan," he said.

    "Mga matatanda pa ho sa akin kalaban namin, ako po pinakamalaki. Kahit nung bata pa po ako, nakikipaglaro ako sa mga nasa amin, tapos hanggang ngayon po member ako ng Sunday Club sa amin," he added.

    "Lagi ko rin po nakakalaro nun sila Cyrus Baguio, nung Alaska pa si daddy, sila Sonny Thoss," he said while recalling playing with the PBA superstars back when he was still eight years old.

    Now that he is 6-9 after growing five inches over the past year, dad has taken a more serious hand in his development.

    "Ginagabayan po ako ni daddy. Mga mahigit one year na po kaming nag-eensayo halos araw-araw ng iba't ibang drills na ginagawa nila sa practice nung nasa PBA pa siya at ngayon sa PCBL," said the teenage prodigy.

    With his dad now playing for NLEX Road Warriors' sister PCBL team Byaheng SCTEX, Kai would always join his dad in practice where he regularly gets advice from Road Warriors' stars Asi Taulava, Mac Cardona and even import and former NBA forward Al Thornton.

    "Lagi ko po nakakausap si sir Al, at binibigyan nga po niya ko ng advice. Sabi nga po niya, matangkad nga raw po ako at kaya ko makapasok sa NBA balang araw kung pagsisikapan ko," he said.

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    "Kailangan daw may skills ako kahit matangkad makakapsok sa NBA," he said.

    [See Amid hoopla, Compton warns not to put too much pressure on teen Sotto]

    This early, Kai is showing some promise. Kai said he can already dunk the ball, though he hasn't tried it yet in a game. He also once scored 50 points in one pick-up game - his highest so far.

    With the popularity comes the offers from teams. The young Sotto is now said to be eyed by the Ateneo Blue Eagles where he has joined the practices of the Eaglets at the Moro Lorenzo Gym.

    According to people close to him, there is also interest from other schools like UCLA, where Kobe Paras is set to debut in the next US NCAA season under coach Steve Alford.

    [See Teen prodigy invited to join Batang Gilas]

    Sotto will also get a chance to play against kids his age when he plays a pick-up game in Manicani Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar where he was invited as guest player in a Nickel Asia organized basketball league.

    "Mainam yun para masanay agad si Kai, saka gusto ko yun kasi makikita niya buhay ng iba pang batang nangangarap maglaro ng basketball laro na sa mga malalayong lugar gaya ng Guiuan," said the father.

    But without coaching from anyone, Kai knows exactly what he needs to do from hereon.

    "Marami pa po akong kailangang i-improve. Alam ko po malayo pa tatahakin ko pero pagsisikapan ko po talaga. Ayaw ko pong mapahiya sa tao. Ayaw ko pong magpaka kumpiyansa," he said.

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    Kai Sotto grew up being around PBA stars like Cyrus Baguio, Sonny Thoss and his Ninong Ranidel (De Ocampo) and now constantly gets advice from NLEX star Asi Taulava and import Al Thornton. Snow Badua
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