CHICAGO - P.J. Carlesimo is a basketball savant who has coached at the highest level and had seen more talent than American Idol.
He won an Olympic gold medal with the 1992 USA men's Dream Team and pocketed three NBA titles while sitting second chair to Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs from 2003 to 2007.
When P.J. speaks, everybody listens.
That's exactly what I did last Sunday when the Basketball Without Borders (BWB) camp folded its tent at Quest Multisport.
And what I heard was loud and clear: A ringing endorsement of Kai Sotto.
"I was very impressed. I think he's improved an awful lot," said the 70-year Carlesimo, whose eagle eyes oversaw most of the former Ateneo star's drills and scrimmages as a mentor with the NBA Academy.
In a world where instant gratification is paramount with super fast internet, high speed dating and Amazon express delivery, we all desire to see Sotto barge through the NBA's golden doors right here, right now.
But Carlesimo cautions that molding Kai into a polished pro is not going to be quick like a microwave. This will require a slow and careful roast.
"Particularly with big guys, it takes them a little bit longer. The improvement I've seen already, I love the way he passes the ball. I mean, I think he's moving, he's moving well. I think another year, a year with a good program, he's got a chance.
"And it doesn't have to be one year. Maybe it will happen in one, maybe it's two. But as hard as he works, that's how good he's gonna be. If he really continues to work, then he's got a chance to be an excellent player. But he's gotta work," Carlesimo explained. .
In a country where basketball is religion, where praying for a full-blooded Filipino to jump over stereotypes and conquer the NBA is an unceasing crusade, the pressure to deliver is immense, I told Carlesimo.
"Yeah, that's hard," he groaned with a tone that suggested feeling sorry for a young kid now burdened to do grown man things so that he can bring joy to all basketball-loving men, women and children back home.
"Gotta be patient," Carlesimo expounds on the virtue once more. " He's gonna be fine. Just let him, he's gonna be fine, just let him go."
Exercising patience is easier said than done for most of us Filipinos. We are late for everything but we rush things that we need.
Let's inconvenience our old habits this once and let Kai Sotto do his thing. On his own terms, in his own time.
Don't worry, he'll be around and he will always be 7-foot-2, if not taller as time goes by. And at age 17, he's not going to get old in two years or so. Kai will only get better, wiser.
If the NBA can wait, so should we.
CEBUANO DOC AT THE ALL-STARS. Dr. Bimbo Tequillo, an internist, was one of the happy faces that occupied the seats at Section 113 at the United Center for the All-Star Weekend,
A gigantic NBA fan, Bimbo traveled from Cebu all the way to Chicago to witness the three-day spectacle. Procuring tickets and making the 8,301 miles journey were the easy part.
Getting clearance from the "kumander" was the challenge.
You see, the Friday night thrills in the 2020 NBA All-Star didn't just happen on Valentine's Day; it coincided with his wedding anniversary.with wife Sheila Ferrer-Tequillo, a famous obstetrician-gynecologist.
Bimbo didn't just ask Sheila. He begged her. And I'm happy to report that after a long discussion, he left the house on his own power.
Dr. Tequillo is a lucky man. Not because he went to the All-Stars, but because he got permission, which is one the hardest things, besides forgiveness, that a married man can ask from his wife.
THANK YOU, NBA. As Kai Sotto was being swarmed by reporters from different Philippine media outlets last Sunday, I was worried I might not be able to ask my questions in the limited time allotted for his media session.
As I ambled around looking for a sweet spot, my fears were allayed when these words were whispered to my left ear, "Don't worry, you'll have him (Kai) all to yourself for a couple minutes."
The whisperer was Roger Ong of NBA Asia, a friend who has helped me secure credentials for well over a decade now. My deepest gratitude, Roger.
Thanks also to the tireless Jandric Lim of NBA Philippines for his invaluable support.
Although I officially represented Rappler during the All-Stars, I also provided stories to three other platforms, including this column of course, my pride and joy.
Needless to say this is the place to go for Kai stories and updates.