Mark Dickel says Kai Sotto needs to work on defense to improve NBA stock

Gilas Pilipinas interim coach and TNT active consultant Mark Dickel has some advice for Kai Sotto, who recently announced that he was joining the NBA G-League's professional pathway program.

"I think he has improved a lot from the last year. I think he's a super talent. It's just hard to know what the right way to go is. You're 7-foot-2 and your greatest attribute is that you're a great passer. That can work especially if you can shoot the ball and he has shown the ability to be able to shoot the ball," opined Dickel, who personally saw Sotto in many practice sessions in Ateneo.

"But the game's changing all the time. He's got to be able to stretch to the three-point line and he's got to be able to guard the screen-and-rolls really well in order to be an NBA prospect. But that's the hardest thing the big guys have to learn, is to guard the screen and rolls. If you're him, the offensive end is going to be far easier than the defensive end."

"If he can work on his agility, if he can work on his strength a little bit. If he can work on his quickness, if he can work on guarding screen and rolls. In the NBA, that's all that there is."

Dickel shared these thoughts as well as his views of Philippine basketball in a session of the Hoop Coaches International Webinar hosted by the Blackwater Elite Wednesday evening.

In the session, entitled "Filipino Basketball in the eyes of a Foreigner," Dickel admitted that he did not know much about the Philippines until he came to Manila in 2016 as an assistant coach for New Zealand in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

"I knew Jayson Castro. Obviously I knew Terrence Romeo. I knew June Mar [Fajardo]. I knew Troy [Rosario]. Like just through scouting stuff," recalled the 43-year-old.

He noticed from the get-go that Filipino fans were very knowledgeable of the game.

"I didn't know a whole lot about Philippine basketball other than incredible passion. Everybody knew about the game as I was sitting on the bench. You'll know a lot about the countries you're going to when you play them from the comments you get from the crowd. And when people are educated in the game. You could tell immediately that they knew what was going on," said Dickel.

He added that people his native country did not possess the same passion for basketball, and were more immersed in more popular sports such as rugby and cricket.

Opportunity came knocking in 2018 when the TNT KaTropa tapped him to flank coach Bong Ravena as the active coaching consultant of the team for that year's Governors' Cup.

Dickel, who was coaching the Canterbury Rams of the Australian NBL, was recommended by former TNT tactician Bill Bayno and mentor Tab Baldwin to the team.

The two older coaches were positive influences towards his budding coaching career and had seen first-hand how Dickel operated as a guard for their respective teams.

Bayno was Dickel's collegiate coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas from 1996 to 2000. The former point guard even led the entire NCAA Division 1 in assists in his senior year.

Baldwin, on the other hand, had guided Dickel from the time when he was 11 years old up until Baldwin left the team when Dickel was 29.

"I just took the opportunity. It was a too good an opportunity to turn down, come over and kind of be taken out of my comfort zone a little bit. For me, it was the challenge of coming here and really knowing nothing," recollected Dickel.

He also explained that accepting the TNT coaching stint was going to be something that "no one else wants," according to Bayno.

"There's a lot of pressure on their job. You know, like if you have bad results, you're not going to be there."

Being a new guy wasn't that difficult with Dickel, since he already experienced it while playing as an import overseas. He played professionally in various parts of Europe for 14 years.

When he first came to the KaTropa, the team was not as successful as they should have been based on their depth, according to his observations.

"And to me this house should be right and then I looked at the roster we had in the players we had and we had talented players all over the court. So it just didn't really add up that our team was struggling like that."

What Dickel also noticed with Philippine basketball is that some teams do not necessarily play to their strengths, but conform to a style not suited for them.

Teams, according to Dickel, had a tendency to copy the playing style of San Miguel. However, that could pose a problem since no one else had June Mar Fajardo clogging the lane.

However, he pointed out that the Filipino brand of basketball is a unique one, blending the right amounts of speed, agility, quickness, shooting, passion, and toughness.

Dickel also sees that the Philippines has a bright future and continue to be a powerhouse in Asia, as long as there is continuity.

"The New Zealand national team is probably better right now, but we have 10 to 15 players that could play at that [higher level]. But in the PBA, there's probably 40-50 players that could play at that level."

He also added that the country probably has more time preparing than others, taking New Zealand as an example, where they only had two to three days of preparing before competing.

When asked how the country would become better in the world stage, he said that the Filipinos must rely less on dribbling and more on ball movement.

"I don't think it's a system. I think it's the skill sets. Like, shooting is a huge prerequisite, but dribble as little as possible and getting good shots. It distorts the defense more and makes it so much harder to guard. So, how can you dribble the ball less and get more good shots?"

"Being better off the catch. Being better moving without the ball. Being a better screener. Being a better passer. Being a better cutter."