Basketball

Kai Sotto exclusive! Coach predicts NBA stardom: "He's a gym rat with high basketball IQ"

The Skills Factory head coach Rob Johnson spoke to Olympic Channel about Kai Sotto's giant strides towards NBA and Olympic greatness.

By Ken Browne ·

Kai Sotto is on the path to the NBA and Olympic glory says top coach Rob Johnson.

Johnson works closely with Kai at The Skill Factory's basketball program in Atlanta, and says the Filipino basketball phenom has what it takes to make his mark at the highest level of the game.

Speaking to Olympic Channel, Johnson answers the question on every Filipino bball fan's lips: Can Kai Sotto make it to the NBA?

"Yes. He just needs to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him and continue to improve."

Sotto has signed to play in the NBA G League this coming season, worked with Rob McClanaghan, personal basketball trainer to NBA MVPs like Steph Curry, and is now back training at TSF, where he's been learning his craft since November 2019.

Sotto making the NBA is "a matter of when" according to coach Johnson and he also says that Kai could be a history-maker at the Olympics too.

"I think the Olympics will be a very big stage for Kai and will give the world a chance to see him represent his country versus the other top countries in the world. He will be exciting to watch on that stage." - Rob Johnson to Olympic Channel

"Kai Sotto is easy to coach"

One of the reasons that 7'2 Kai Sotto, born 2002, has come so far so fast is that he's stayed humble, stayed grounded, and he's learned how to learn from some of the top coaches in the U.S.

Rob Johnson says he's a joy to work with:

"Kai has a great attitude about training. He is a gym rat. He loves finding out information to apply to his game to help him improve, Kai is very enjoyable to work with."

Johnson says he sees a big improvement since Sotto joined the TSF program in November 2019:

"Kai has improved his overall strength and explosion at TSF."

Coach says he has been challenged to create ways that best bring out the big centre's talents.

"It’s challenging for me too because i have to continue to challenge myself to come up with ways to maximize his gifts. But he is dedicated to the game and enjoys the process of working and learning so it has been a pleasure so far."

And coach is impressed by his work ethic, but even more by how quickly he learns and interprets concepts and instructions.

"Kai has great basketball IQ. He is easy to coach and understands instructions and concepts at a very high level."

Kai Sotto in the NBA? "A matter of when"

Johnson is convinced that Kai Sotto has what it takes to make it to the big time, but he has to take it one step at a time.

When asked if Kai can become the first full-blooded Filipino to play in the NBA, Johnson doesn't hesitate:

"Yes. He just needs to take advantage of the opportunities in front of him and continue to improve."

And the next opportunity in front of him is in the NBA G-League where he'll play with other NBA-bound promises like Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix.

So is Kai ready?

"I believe the G League will be a great challenge for Kai," says Johnson, "but I believe he is prepared to play at that level and will continue to improve as the season develops."

Kai Sotto at the Olympics?

With the NBA in his sights, Kai Sotto could also bring joy to the millions of basketball-crazy fans back home.

"Basketball is a religion in the Philippines," says Sotto himself and guiding the Gilas Filipinas to the Olympics and onto the podium would spark a unified moment of national sporting celebration like no other.

The team's highest finish ever was 5th at the Munich 1936 Olympics but they haven't qualified for the Games since Munich 1972 when names like Danny Florencio, Jun Papa, Bogs Adornado and Freddie Webb rang out from that era.

With their first bona fide NBA star, Sotto could give the team something to build around and coach Johnson thinks that it's only a matter of time before we see this proud Pinoy on the Olympic stage too.

"I think the Olympics will be a very big stage for Kai and will give the world a chance to see him represent his country versus the other top countries in the world. He will be exciting to watch on that stage."