Tropang TNT rookie Moala Tautuaa admitted that his transition from the amateur to the pro ranks has been a difficult one.
Selected first overall in last tear’s PBA Rookie Draft, expectations were high for the Fil-Tongan, who capped his amateur career with a Most Valuable Player trophy in the D-League where he starred for Cebuana Lhuillier.
But after the Philippine Cup, TNT failed to at least reach the semis, finishing with a disappointing 6th place instead.
In the ongoing Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup, TNT finally got its bearings back and have won 2 straight under new import David Simon.
But Tautuaa’s performance has yet to pick up after averaging just 9.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 18 minutes of play in the import-spiced conference.
The 6-foot-7 Fil-Tongan big man said he and coach Jong Uichico are still in a “feeling-your-way-through” situation at this point.
“Right now, I feel like he’s (Uichico) still feeling me out myself in practice and in games. But it’s not the same style because we practice different and in the game, I play different in the sense that he’s still figuring out what I can do,” Tautuaa confided to FOX Sports on Friday.
The pressure of delivering immediately in his first year as a pro was mounting, but then again, Tautuaa is glad he’s got his teammates and coach to encourage him at this point.
“For me, it’s been a tough adjustment and everyone just keeps telling me to just keep my head forward and my head up and don’t give up,” he said.
“Now, I got the coach to help me out.”
Over the past month, the 26-year-old freshman center/forward said he, along with fellow rookie big man Troy Rosario has been working out with new skills coach Alton Lister.
The 57-year-old Lister is making a comeback this year with the MVP group, having previously served as Meralco’s skills coach.
The 7-foot Lister spent 17 seasons in the NBA, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Seattle Supersonics, the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, before finally ending his career with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1998.
“He (Lister) pushes me pretty hard, me and Troy especially because we’re still testing out the waters,” shared the former Chadron University standout.
“And he’s got some insight on how to make us better players, so it’s just a matter of just translating it to production on the court,” he added.
Tautuaa also mentioned that he’s also trying to unlearn some of his long-time basketball habits under Uichico’s system.
Whereas before, he was used to being the go-to-guy back in college, his days with the KL Dragons in the Asean Basketball League and the PBA D-League, at TNT, Tautuaa said Uichico expects him to fulfill a certain role.
“Even in the ABL, I was an all-around player, shooting, rebounding and bringing the ball up. But everything has been limited to me here (at TNT), like everything has been slowly cut off and some of the dimensions have kinda change for me,” explained Tautuaa.
“And it’s because we have the different players that are specific in the position as opposed to the D-League where I would get the ball every time and I would do that, take care of everything,” he added.
“But here, we don’t need that because we have one role, and right now, I’m finding my role for myself, slowly and little by little. It’s hard and something difficult because I haven’t had a great start like I wanted to, but it’s because I had a transition and it’s a full transition, like a full makeover of myself to becoming a different player,” said the top PBA rookie pick.
The habit he had through college maybe hard to break, but Tautuaa said he’s committed to doing what Uichico wants him to do.
“It’s a habit that I built and it’s kinda habit that’s hard to break as they try to cut that down so I can be that player the team needs,” he said.
“Happy? Yes and no, but I mean, obviously, everyone wants glamorous numbers, and the big numbers and the good game, the Player of the game, all that but when all is said and done, it’s about the wins,” Tautuaa added.
“If we bring in the wins with me sitting or playing specific role, then so be it.” – By Richard Dy
Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava