Thirdy Ravena "proud of Kai Sotto both as a player and as a person"

Top Filipino baller Thirdy Ravena has known 7'2" NBA prospect Kai Sotto since he was a "happy-go-lucky" 13-year-old, says "he really changed"

By Ken Browne

At 23 Thirdy Ravena is an established player on the Philippine national basketball team about to embark on a new adventure playing pro ball in Japan's B.League.

Ravena is a 1.88m (6'2) skilfull shooting guard who came up through the Ateneo Eagles high school and college programs, as did NBA G League player Kai Sotto.

Thirdy has watched Kai's growth first hand from 13-year-old talent to NBA-bound history-maker.

In an Instagram live interview with FIBA Asia Cup during coronavirus lockdown, Ravena talked about representing Filipino basketball in Japan, the national team, his excitement at the Philippines hosting the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, and how he has no doubt that Kai Sotto will be the first homegrown Filipino to play in the NBA.

"I know that Kai's definitely going to make it to the league" - Thirdy Ravena

The talented Ravena family

Ravena comes from a sporting family. His father Bong played professional basketball for UE Warriors while mother Mozzy was a top volleyball player with the UST Golden Tigresses and represented her country at international level.

His older brother Kiefer who plays pro ball for Philippine team NLEX Road Warriors and was recently named Team Captain of the 'Gilas Filipinas' national team.

'Kief the Chief' is a big influence on Thirdy and they played for the same team at Manila's Ateneo University, while their younger sister Dani is playing volleyball with the Ateneo Lady Eagles.

Kiefer is in a high profile relationship with Alyssa Valdez, another one of the best volleyball players in the country.

Wherever Thirdy looks he's surrounded by sporting high achievers. His father is a former PBA Rookie of the Year and Kiefer is a 2018 PBA All-star and two-time UAAP Most Valuable Player.

That was a lot to live up to as a young baller trying to find his own path.

LeBron's shoes and a message for Thirdy

Playing in the shadow of his big brother for much of his early career, Thirdy even received a pair of shoes and a message of support from LeBron James back in 2016.

First James had sent shoes to Kiefer, then did the same for Thirdy:

"They call you the other Ravena, they keep comparing you to Kiefer," read the message from 'King James', "Sometimes you think you'll always come second, but those days are over."

"This is Thirdy's time."

The younger Ravena was surrounded by people he could learn from to become the best version of himself.

Now Thirdy is blazing his own trail to Japan to play with San-En Neophoenix in the B.League, while still forming an important part of the national side.

“It’s close to my family and friends, just in case I get homesick there," Ravena told CNN Phillippines in June when he signed. "Also because Japan is near to our country, the team can allow me to play in Gilas (the national team).”

He says he's proud to fly the flag in Japan.

“I wouldn’t just be representing myself as an individual but also I’m gonna bring the flag with me in Japan. It's an inspiration for me to work hard to keep representing the country in the best way that I could,” he said.

Thirdy Ravena and Kai Sotto

Ravena was born in 1996 a few years ahead of Kai (2002), but has watched him grow from a 13-year-old kid goofing around into an 18-year-old NBA prospect.

When Sotto was playing for Ateneo's Eaglets, the high school team, Ravena was leading the college side, and they shared training facilities.

"He practised before us everyday," Ravena says.

"I've seen Kai ever since he was 13, 14, and I've seen his development as a player, coming in you know, he was just like a happy-go-lucky person, he would just have fun, practise, chill for a little bit."

"But throughout the years I've seen him work, and work, and work. And just seeing how he works now, seeing all his videos and his workouts it really makes me so proud of Kai with all the development, not just for him as a player but as a person as well."

"He really changed his character really striving to be the best version that he can possibly be, every single day. And I know that it's going to pay tenfold especially when it comes to, you know, making it to the (NBA) G League and doing well there, and eventually making it to the league because I know that Kai's definitely going to make it to the league."

Kai Sotto is funny

Thirdy was asked to share any fun stories about Kai "now before he makes it to the big time and you can't share any more".

"I think he's big time now," he answered, before talking about a side of Kai we don't hear much of: his sense of humour.

"I don't know, I think it's really just him as a person, not really crazy funny stories but Kai's very funny if you know him, I used to see him, like they practised before us like every day.

"Every time I talk to him he's such a funny guy, being with him every day and having all these funny stories, seeing him just joke around is already funny because everybody knows that Kai is such a funny person."

When Ravena is asked what advice he has for Kai, it's simple:

"Keep working."

And that's exactly what Sotto is doing right now, training hard under head coach Rob Johnson at The Skill Factory in Atlanta ahead of the start of the NBA G League season, his path to the big time more secure with each step.

FIBA World Cup 2023

"Basketball is a religion in the Philippines," Kai Sotto has said.

And there was a lot of excitement when it was announced that the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup will be held in the Philippines.

The tournament will be jointly hosted by Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines with the Group Phase set to take place in all three countries, with the Final Phase following in the Philippine capital city of Manila.

Qualifying automatically as hosts, the Philippines could have a team that could do something special on home soil.

In 2023, Sotto – who might already be a regular in the NBA by then – will have other experienced players like Thirdy Ravena and his brother Kiefer behind him.

A big showing at a home World Cup may prove to be the spark for the Gilas as they attempt to qualify for Paris 2024, it would be their first Olympic Games since 1972.

For now, Thirdy Ravena and Sotto are focused on what's next, Japan's B.League and the NBA G League respectively, but you can't blame die-hard Filipino basketball fans for dreaming with a new generation making everything seem possible.