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Is the Undrafted Kai a Mistake or a Reality Check?

We are fresh off the results of the 2022 NBA draft, and Filipino star, Kai Sotto, is left without an NBA home. Yet the question remains, is the lack of a drafted Kai Sotto a mistake by the NBA owners or a reality check for the Filipino fanbase?

Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets

Within just the last year, the Philippines has seen a resurgence in the attention that it receives for both its homegrown talent and players that come from fully or half Filipino families abroad. In 2021, Jalen Green was the second pick in the NBA draft and was taken by the Houston Rockets. Being from a family with a mother of Filipino descent, the Philippine archipelago was elated to see one of their own play in Houston. More recently, the PBA and the UAAP (both are leagues in the Philippines) have been hit by what some are referring to as "player poaching;" a situation in which much of their local talent is leaving the Philippines to play somewhere else. SJ Belangel from Ateneo and RJ Abarrientos from FEU have both decided to leave the UAAP to play in Korea, while Ricci Rivero of the defending champions the NU Fighting Maroons, announced that he will be leaving to play in the P+ league in Taiwan.

Outside of the UAAP, the PBA is littered with players who left in the past and continue their stint in neighboring countries as well as players who have decided to leave quite recently; these names include Dwight Ramos, Kobe Paras, Bobby Ray Parks, Thirdy Ravena, Kiefer Ravena, Justine Baltazar, and more.

Even FilBasket, a professional basketball league in the Philippines lower than that of the PBA, saw one of their own leave the country as Justin Gutang signed with Changwon LG of the KBL. You can listen to Justin talk about his decision to go play in the KBL in the video below as he joined Next Man Up on Episode 6.

Justin Gutang on Next Man Up

See, this is where it gets confusing and possibly contradictory. On the one hand, we have players from the UAAP, PBA, and FilBasket being brought to other leagues (KBL, B League, P+ League) because of the talent level in the Philippines. This is clearly a positive sign for the Philippines about how their homegrown talent is viewed outside of their borders. Yet, on the other side of things, Kai Sotto, the one seen by many as the best possible shot for a fully Filipino-born player in the NBA, was left undrafted; this seems to echo a painful truth, while the Filipino talent is good enough to invade other countries, Filipino-born ballers are not as good as some make them out to be and are still not ready for the NBA...yet.

This anti-climactic finish to Kai’s NBA Draft bid sounds eerily familiar to the hype that surrounded Ateneo star, Kiefer Ravena when news broke that he was granted a workout with the Texas Legends, the D League (now G League) affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks. Kiefer, himself, was quick to calm the media down by reminding them that “nothing is cast in stone yet”, but that didn’t stop the story, and more importantly, the hype from the people that Kiefer was on his way to the NBA. In the end, nothing became of it and Kiefer found his way back to the Philippines to play with the NLEX Road Warriors as well as spent some time in Japan playing with the Shiga Lakestars.

A similar hype story occurred earlier in 2015 when the Philippine-born baller, Bobby Ray Parks also spent some time with the Texas Legends. Eventually, just like with Kiefer, Parks made his way back to Asia, spending time in the ABL, the MPBL, PBA, and now, currently, plays in the B League in Japan.

With regards to Sotto though, maybe the view that he isn’t ready for the NBA is too harsh. Maybe passing on Sotto was the biggest mistake each franchise could have possibly made. Maybe the 7' 2" pride of the Philippines would have been a steal of a pick. In the end, though, we are left with only the facts; all 30 teams in the NBA agreed, Kai was not worth a draft pick, and only time will tell if they made the right decision. And yet, until that time, we are left unable to answer the main question here. While Parks, Ravena, and now Sotto were all passed on at the NBA level, Philippine talent is becoming a hot commodity in other leagues. So, I’ll ask the question again, was passing on Sotto in the 2022 NBA Draft a mistake by the NBA franchises or a reality check for the basketball fanbase in the Philippines?

You decide and let us know in the comments below.


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