NBA, PBA, Gilas? Sky’s the limit for Kai

If we’re looking for a feel good story, then Terry Saldaña’s current status is something that should give any of us hope.

A retired PBA player, Saldaña has been in the headlines lately, battling serious illnesses—complications from diabetes and kidney ailment—which caused swelling and wounds in his legs. He was really in terrible shape. But his friends and former colleagues quickly came to his aid to provide the many-time champion the necessary treatment he needed.

He’s now under the care of his good friend, Coach Pablo Lucas.

Terry is best remembered for his exploits playing for Toyota, Gilbey’s Gin/Ginebra and the RFM franchise-owned PBA squads coached by Yeng Guiao.

As soon as he entered the PBA in 1982,  Saldaña quickly made headlines as he was reportedly the youngest ever player to enter the league at that time, straight from high school. Of course, such claims were hardly proven and remained to be a subject of debate nearly four decades after.

But wouldn’t it be interesting to have a player straight from high school to jump and play in the PBA, the same path went through by several great players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James in the NBA?

This brings the attention to Kai Sotto, who technically speaking is still in high school.

The 7’3” Sotto would certainly become a game changer should the PBA make an exception to him—as the only high school player to be drafted in the big league.

How about a Larry Bird rule to be imposed just to accommodate Sotto where teams would pass up making a first round selection, then pick Sotto and wait until the second generation player becomes available once he’s done with his other basketball commitments?

In 1978, the Boston Celtics picked Bird, who would only play for Boston the following season. Since then, the NBA changed its draft eligibility rule.   

Take note that Sotto is aspiring to become the first pure-blooded Filipino to make it to the NBA and that dream became closer to reality when he was invited to become a part of the Ignite program in the NBA D-League, where some of the NBA prospects are included.

Sotto is set to join the Gilas Pilipinas squad, this time as a member of the men’s team. For several years, he has played with the age group level, representing the country in major international tournaments. A few years ago, he was included in the Gilas men’s pool by Guiao, then the head coach of the team, to give him the experience competing in the men’s level.

Would it be interesting to have Sotto as the first high school player to be selected in the PBA Rookie Draft? Should the PBA board be amenable to bending the rules for him?

It’s certainly interesting to have a first high school player to be drafted in the PBA, but there are a lot of things to consider, one of this is for selfish reason.

“We all know that Kai is our best hope to make it to the NBA, so we don’t want to deprive him of such an opportunity,” said Guiao.

And there are a lot more complications. One of the requirements of the PBA is for an applicant to have obtained at least a number of units in college, although Sotto passed the mark when it comes to representing the national team as he had done this many times before. Submission of application for the PBA Rookie Draft has already ended as well.

The PBA isn’t ready for it in giving  Sotto such exemptions.

And then there are the possible loopholes.

For example, how can we guarantee that the team which drafted him will not trade him to an already superior squad? Should we issue a moratorium that the team which drafted him won’t trade him for the next five years?

Such idea should need careful evaluation and for now, playing for the national team—and hopefully in the near future in the NBA—will be the logical destination for Sotto.

But will we ever see him play in the PBA in front of the local fans?

Only time will tell as cracking the PBA is just within reach as long as he meets the requirements needed. For the NBA, it’s doable as well and to see him as one of the top prospects gives us hope. We want to see history in the making for Kai Sotto.

For now, we’re all excited to see him joining Gilas Pilipinas as the only high school player in the men’s squad. The sky is the limit for Kai Sotto whatever path he would undertake.  

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