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Abarrientos praying for Kai’s success

By JONAS TERRADO

 

 

 

 

KAI SOTTO

KAI SOTTO

PBA legend and Magnolia assistant coach Johnny Abarrientos is hoping and praying that the 7-foot-2 Kai Sotto can finally fulfill the country’s dream of seeing a homegrown Filipino play in the NBA.

JOHNNY ABARRIENTOS

JOHNNY ABARRIENTOS

“Pine-pray natin na sana bigyan siya ng chance,” Abarrientos said in the recent episode of the PBA-produced Kamustahan. “Siya yung pinakaclose na pwede makapasok dun.”

Abarrientos knows a bit of given an NBA opportunity which happened 23 years ago when basketball fans were overcome with excitement about the apparent interest by the Charlotte Hornets to tap the 1996 Most Valuable Player.

The speedy point guard had just led Alaska to the PBA’s fourth Grand Slam when a Hornets scout named Joe Betancourt came to the country to watch Abarrientos play.

“Nung una, hindi rin ako makapaniwala kung papaano nangyari yun,” Abarrientos said, adding that he was invited by Betancourt to a dinner at Manila Peninsula. Abarrientos asked Milkmen coach Tim Cone to come along.

“Basta yung last word na sinabi (ni Betancourt) kung willing daw ba ako maglaro kahit 10 days. Sabi ko, ‘Wow, parang beyond my…di ko ma-imagine kung totoo, di ko alam kung seryoso.”

The next meeting never occurred. Abarrientos, to his knowledge, said a member of the Hornets ownership group who Betancourt is associated with sold his stake, and the offer to try his luck in the NBA disappeared in the process.

The NBA opportunity became closer after Sotto accepted an offer to play in the NBA G-League’s team composed of promising young players like Fil-American Jalen Green. If Sotto makes an impact, being selected in the 2021 Draft could be a big moment for Philippine basketball.

And Abarrientos is expected to be one of the first people to be elated.

“At his age, sobrang huge yung opportunity,” Abarrientos said. “And good for him na nag-decide siya na to get better dun sa kung nasaan man siya. Sana, sana sa kanya mapunta, para di rin tayo maiwan sa paboritong laro ng mga Pinoy.”

 

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