CHICAGO - Quest Multisport, a 65,000 square feet facility that lurks just 1.5 miles away from the United Center, has watched its fair share of amateur sneakers squeak all the way to the pro ranks.
Jordan Clarkson passed the draft combine's obstacle course here in 2014 and graduated to the Los Angeles Lakers, an NBA career that has since transitioned to Cleveland and Utah.
Using the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp as a vehicle, Kai Sotto endeavors to be the next prospect, and the first full-blooded Filipino, to make the leap to the NBA.
And, perhaps, stardom beyond basketball-crazy Philippines.
For the second day in the three-day camp, reporters were not allowed to interview the campers. That trying, prying, and sometimes challenging verbal calisthenics known as the media availability session is scheduled after the event culminates early Sunday afternoon (Monday morning in RP time).
I can't wait to talk to this nice, young kid, but I have to. And the feeling is powerless.
It's like giving me a glass of my favorite poison, rum, letting me sniff it, hold it, stir the ice and Coke with my fingers and then telling me I can't drink it.
At least, thankfully, we were allowed to take photos and videos up close. And there sure was a healthy serving of eye candy.
At first glance, Kai looked like a reluctant vegetarian, famished for protein-rich red meat, fragile and pale. But he moves pretty well, gliding softly with what must easily be a pair of 40-inch legs.
He was slow at times, maybe even indifferent. But when engaged, he was wide-eyed. Ferocious with a burst.
I was particularly impressed with his shooting mechanics, a one-motion jumper that looks effortless as he arcs the ball high and flaps his left hand in a swan pose after the release,
He was very good with the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop drills. I was especially drawn to a designed play where he fakes to set a screen before lunging quickly to his dominant left side where he untethered a long 2 that ruffles the bottom of the net.
There were plays where he did off-the-dribble pull-up jumpers. There were a few misses but the form and execution were textbook - planted feet, bended knees and squared shoulders.
It must, however, be noted that a full-contact practice is the truest barometer for overall evaluation. But realizing that camps are all about sharpening fundamentals, Kai easily gets my A-minus.
One wrinkle I saw was during a 3-man shell defensive drill. Kai was late on a close-out. It's a correctable error, though, a miscue that gets avoided through constant correct practice.
Fabian Lara, head coach at the Post Graduate Academy program at the International Sports Academy in Cleveland, Ohio is one of the mentors running the camp.
He thinks highly of Kai but like a every discerning mentor he pumped the brakes a little bit on the hype.
"He needs to bulk up, shoot the 3 consistently and improve on his motor," said Lara a former assistant coach at the University of Illinois, a Division 1 program.
In the end, Lara is unshakable. "Oh yeah, he'll make the NBA."
Because Kai has an amazing representation comprised of management professionals who know what they're doing and are aided by a strong infrastructure anchored by Atlanta's The Skill Factory.
And being 7-foot-2 doesn't hurt.
The road to the NBA is littered by the carcasses of many great Filipino ballers who valiantly tried but just didn't make it all the way for one reason or another.
Kai Sotto appears to be our Haley's Comet, a once-in-a-lifetime burst of light that burns across generations.
Our biggest basketball star is a part of the NBA's All-Star celebration.
Maybe this time, it is finally meant to be.