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PBA legend Johnny Abarrientos rooting for Kai Sotto

By Jonas Terrado

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

Johnny Abarrientos (photo by Brian Yalung)

PBA legend and Magnolia assistant coach Johnny Abarrientos (MB File Photo)

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

Abarrientos knows a bit of being 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.

“Yung Hornets daw were looking for an Asian player na papalit kay Muggsy Bogues,” said Abarrientos, who stands 5-foot-7 or four inches taller than Bogues. “I asked coach Tim kung pwede niya akong samahan (sa dinner) kasi may mga offer silang ganito and coach Tim was willing to attend para malaman niya rin.

“Nag-ask sila kung pwede ako mag-try ng training pero di ko alam kung ilang months yun. Siyempre nasa gitna tayo ng PBA, may liga, so di rin ako maka-decide at si coach Tim di rin niya alam kung gaano kaseryoso.”

Abarrientos said he didn’t know how to react, whether there was really a serious interest from the Interest or if he was just dreaming. He was noncommittal after the dinner and the two parties agreed to meet again.

“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.”

Kai Zotto (FIBA Images)

NBA G League-bound Filipino Kai Sotto (FIBA Images)

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 into thin air.

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 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.”

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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