There was a time when Kai Sotto’s move to Japan to play for the B.League’s Hiroshima Dragonflies was met with both applause and jeers.

Of course, many were happy that Sotto would continue his basketball career in a quality league with the NBA summer league still months away. However, there were still some quarters that wanted him to devote his attention to Gilas Pilipinas (more on that later).

A few games in, though, Sotto has already validated his decision to make the move to Japan.

The rigors of Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL) were evident with Sotto as he was more confident and fearless in the paint. Chasing down opponents to alter shots and finishing offensive possessions with dunks and some jumpshots have become more prevalent. More importantly, the confidence that comes with more experience and against tough competition was on full display. The 3-1 record the Dragonflies should only add credence to what he has brought to the table.

These are the types of performances that will turn heads in part because of the production, but more so due to the progression. The biggest question on the minds of teams and pretty much everyone following Sotto is: How much has changed since we last saw you? 

A lot, in a nutshell. Sotto has grown up and that’s what you expect with another season under his belt. Different players have varying paces of development and the former Ateneo Blue Eaglet took a path that looks to have been a good one for him.

There, of course, remains work to be done, but Sotto has become a better rebounder, a capable defender, and of course, has continued to develop consistency with his offensive game. Regardless of where the focus is, it all boils down to reliability. With Hiroshima, teammates have been able to find, and more importantly, trust Sotto with drop passes and serve as the last line of defense.

Much of these gains will also translate into benefits for Gilas Pilipinas, whose management and coaching staff led by Chot Reyes seemed to take issue towards Sotto’s decision to acclimatize himself with the Dragonflies rather than suit up for the (non-bearing) sixth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.

It’s funny that Reyes and co. seemed to forget that Sotto was present in Gilas practices and games whenever his schedule permitted. Attendance aside, the longtime national team member has made a good account for himself, more so during the latter qualifying windows.

His availability for the SEA Games remains in question, but best believe that Sotto will be committed for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, where he could feature heavily given the Philippines’ naturalized players Jordan Clarkson and Justin Brownlee operate largely from the perimeter. It’s fair to say that Sotto’s slot in the final roster is his to lose, but Gilas needs him more than he needs them.

It’s important to note that Sotto’s minutes have been much more with Hiroshima than with the NBL’s Adelaide 36ers and thus, the 20-year old has been able to show more of his abilities. He will likely see an uptick given how the Dragonflies signed him at this point in the B.League season and their desire to climb up the standings. A shot at the top spot remains feasible given that there remain 18 games for the preliminaries, but the margin for error will only get thinner for Hiroshima.

Regardless of the outcome, the remaining games and the opportunity they provide will give Sotto chances to do whatever he needs to get to the next level. He’ll make mistakes and generate some oohs and aahs and that’s the beauty of his journey thus far; it’s not a linear path but one that is nonetheless trending in the right direction.

Kai Sotto’s decision to play for the Hiroshima Dragonflies and the sacrifices that came with it have paid off, haters be damned. The NBA dream obviously remains on the horizon, but Sotto’s priority is helping the Dragonflies win a title. After all, everything he does from here on out will either be a bane or a boon for his NBA chances.