By Frankie Serrano

The writing was all over the wall.

Go to the West.

There was no other choice to make but to go west.

After all, what can the Philippines offer a 7’2” 16-year old in terms of basketball training, development, and competition?

There was no other option when European clubs like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Alba Berlin, and Saski Baskonia came and tendered offers of giving Kai Sotto a smoother path to the NBA. It wasn’t a matter of yes or no, it was a matter of when.

And this time, it’s real.

Kai Sotto is going out of this country and will be sharpening his basketball skills out west, in a quaint manner of how Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk, went on a great Journey to the West, to face 81 trials in recovering sacred scriptures. Kai Sotto, our great basketball hope of seeing a Filipino play world-class basketball, is about to embark on his own, and we’re merely followers to what will happen next.

Staying here would’ve stagnated Sotto, character development be damned. There’s nothing else for him to prove here, not after flat-out dominating the UAAP Juniors competition this season. In Europe, I would not mind him being ranked below another guy. After all, he’s going in there with no expectations — except our humungous one, because you know, Filipino — and to develop his multi-positional skills. After all, he wants to be like his idols Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Kristaps Porzingis, three seven footers who can do quite a lot of stuff with the ball, instead of being traditionally parked on the low blocks.

For all the talk that this has garnered, to the frustrations of the young man regarding his pending decision to talking absolutely considering nothing else about him by the media, everyone has been working only on a hypothesis: Kai will probably leave and play basketball overseas.

But now, that “probably leave” is out of the window.

He’s gone.

He’s gone to make a pilgrimage to the west. It is a pilgrimage that will make him focus on basketball and his NBA dream and nothing else.

And having to write that down is quite surreal. I never imagined myself to be this out of words like how Carl Tamayo was out of his wits in trying to stop Sotto from dropping a 21-20 average on his head in a show of utter dominance in the UAAP Finals.

I can’t describe this feeling of mixed giddiness and uncertainty. After all, we’re throwing a 16-year-old to the fire, to turn that charcoal into a diamond. It’s like I’m Sun Wukong freeing myself from five centuries of imprisonment to follow Xuanzang in his journey to the west.

What’s there to lose if Kai goes to Europe?

Your dignity? Ateneo championships?

Those do not matter in the grand scheme of things where he can potentially make waves akin to the Greek Freak or Dallas Mavericks wonderboy, Luka Doncic.

You all say he’s flat-footed? Unathletic? Thin frame? No strength? Pang-Asia lang?

We all forget that Kaiju is a kid. And like most kids, he’s still in that process of harnessing his athletic gifts into a 7’2” body. Not everyone is born with that height, nor with the necessary coordination to deal with that. But to say that he is all height and will not survive European lumberjacks is concluding way too early and acting like the Knicks fans who booed Porzingis on Draft day.

But nothing else matters today.

The only thing of import is that I bid Kai Sotto goodbye, for the next time I want to see him, it’s in a European club team AND as a major player in the National team, at 18 years old.

Go West, young Kai.

Go West, don’t look back. We’ll be waiting here in the Philippines. We’ll be behind you every step of the way.