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Kai Sotto: Filipino players should play abroad and 'go out and explore'

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What is it like being the face of Philippines basketball? (3:42)

Kai Sotto talks discusses the pressure of being the Philippines' most recognisable basketball star. (3:42)

Adelaide 36ers center Kai Sotto says Filipino basketball players should not be prevented from playing and developing in leagues abroad.

In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Sotto, who declined to play college ball in the Philippines to try his luck in the United States, said Filipino players should "go out and explore" the competition in other countries.

The 7-foot-3 center, who will be playing his second season in Australia's NBL, was in the news recently for tweeting his support for Gilas Pilipinas teammate William Navarro. SBP prevented Navarro from pursuing an opportunity to play in Korea due to a contract with the Philippines' basketball governing body. Prior to that, local basketball officials had talked about the "poaching" of Filipino talent by other Asian professional leagues.

"Ever since before it felt like some people were just trying to stop those players from coming out of the country and explore," Sotto said. "If I was in their place I would have done the same thing. You can always go back to the Philippines. That's your home. At the end of the day, you're still a Filipino. You can still go back there. But you only live once. You don't know how long your career is, so at a young age, just go out and explore. Just try new stuff and just go to what you think will help you get better."

Sotto wasn't selected in this year's NBA draft, but he stoked Filipino pride last week after a strong showing against the Phoenix Suns in an exhibition game where he scored 11 points. His appearance in an NBA preseason game has made him even more a symbol of Philippine basketball on the international stage, heaping more pressure on his shoulders from a basketball-crazy country still in search of its first NBA player.

"It's a different kind of pressure, I guess," Sotto said of the hype. "It's not the type of pressure that I get nervous. It's the type of pressure that I feel like I always have to perform well because there are a lot of people and fans and players also that's looking up to me and setting me as a standard. So I always gotta perform. I'm totally aware of that.

"For me, it's the rise of Philippine basketball. A lot of players are exploring different levels of the game and I'm just happy to see a lot of players explore and do great."

Having played and trained mostly abroad for the past three years, Sotto has seen first-hand how exposure to the basketball culture in the U.S. can make all the difference for young prospects.

"When you look at the international level, the highest level of basketball is in the U.S., in the NBA," Sotto said. "And just the experience that I had training with guys that are trying to get in the league and players that are already in the NBA, it really helped me opened my awareness of how good these guys really are. And I think that's the difference.

"Wherever you train, you'll still get better. It depends on you as a person and as a player. But the experience is different because you're going against a higher level, higher caliber of basketball players and also the trainers and the coaches as well."

Despite coming to the U.S. at a young age, Sotto adapted quickly to his new surroundings.

"I wasn't really shocked (by the level of play)," he said. "If I really wanted to get better, I could get better by myself. But I think what America has [compared] to the Philippines is they got a lot more resources here, they got a lot more trainers, they got lots of people who help players get better. Some might say trainers in the Philippines are better, but there's just a lot of trainers here who are willing to help. There's just a lot of players here, a lot of talent."