Barangay Ginebra coach Tim Cone is hesitant to apply a hackneyed hoop label on NBA hopeful Kai Sotto.
"He's got unique skills," Cone, who is headed to the NBA Summer League to join the Miami Heat coaching staff, said late Friday night after his team's 75-72 squeaker over San Miguel Beer that catapulted the Gin Kings to the top of the standings.
"He's if I may say—I won't call him a unicorn, because that's kind of reserved for [Washington big man Kristaps] Porzingis and now [Oklahoma City draftee] Chet Holmgren—but I'll call him a baby unicorn. He's still developing his skills. He's got a shot [to make the NBA]. There's no doubt," Cone added.
But to earn that shot, Sotto needs to be visible.
"I think the next step for him is to get to a Summer League team and get playing time and showcase his skills," Cone said. "Someone's going to find him. If you're that good, they'll find you in the NBA. You cannot hide."
The NBA's 30 teams passed on Sotto during the NBA Draft on Friday (Manila time) in what was probable the most highly anticipated second round proceedings of the annual event. But Cone doubled down on what many had said after the snub: The Draft isn't the only platform for Sotto to be visible to NBA scouts and coaches.
"[H]e still has a lot of pathways, like I've said. He just needs to explore. It's never easy. It's oftentimes a right-place-right-time (kind of things)," the Grand Slam mentor added.
The 7-foot-3 Sotto played a season in Australia with the National Basketball League's Adelaide 36ers and Cone said that might have kept him hidden most of the time.
"It's a lot harder to watch [players] from Australia than it is [to scout players] from North Carolina or in Georgia or UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) or someplace like that. So yeah, they see highlights, see videos, call coaches. But they don't have a full-time NBA scout there watching every game like the big-time colleges [have]," Cone said.
The 20-year-old Sotto also had a huge handicap that international prospects like him did not have years before.
"The thing that really hurt him at this point—like a lot of guys—was the pandemic. Basically, for a year and a half, you lost your normal development. He wasn't able to showcase himself during those important years, to build his momentum, which makes things more difficult for him," he said.
Sotto's management team had earlier ditched the idea of playing in the Summer League in Las Vegas, but the former Ateneo high school star clarified that his agent "misspoke" and that such an option hadn't been scrubbed amid reports that he had already gotten several invites from teams to suit up in their rosters.
"I'm sure he will be [invited] because someone has gotta pick him up. it would be nice if Miami did. That would be poetic," Cone said. "He might go to the [Sacramento] Kings with Jimmy [Alapag]. [It is] important for him to get to the Summer League and show he could play with the guys in the league. There are still NBA guys in that Summer League. Very few, but there are."
Cone said that has yet to talk to close pal and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about Sotto.
"I haven't really had a chance, but I will when I get there and do my morning walks with Spo and definitely ask about Kai," said Cone. INQ
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