Rookie race could boil down to TNT teammates
Horsing around during a break in practice, Moala Tautuaa and Troy Rosario, this season’s top two PBA rookie picks, look all set for a solid team up. And even if they are now teammates, the question still pops up: Who’s better?
“That’s what people want (a rivalry),” said Tautuaa. “People like that kind of stuff, but we don’t think about it. We’re in it together. I have his back.”
Pitted against each other in pre-draft talks, Tautuaa and Rosario undoubtedly stand as the best low-post prospects in their rookie class. Yet somehow, the two wound up together in one team.
Talk ’N Text made the Filipino-Tongan Tautuaa its No. 1 pick, while Mahindra (formerly Kia) selected Rosario second overall. But the Tropang Texters later acquired the former National University star in a multi-player trade.
“There are still adjustments with the team, but we’re welcome here,” said Rosario, who helped power the NU Bulldogs to their first UAAP championship in 60 years last season.
“We know we’ll learn a lot here. They’re easy to get along with. We’re rookies, but they don’t treat us like rookies. They tell us to just play your game.”
TNT coach Jong Uichico noted that both are skilled, promising big men—Rosario gifted with athleticism, Tautuaa armed with strength.
Debates can go on, but the PBA may get to answer who’s the best between them. Come season’s end, the league bestows the PBA Rookie of the Year award to the top freshman.
“Whoever gets it, gets it. We’re a team,” said Tautuaa. “I’m going to be happy if he gets it. And I think he’d reciprocate if I get it. We’re on the same team, we have the same jersey. If he wins, we win.”
Although there had been surprises—think Larry Fonacier, the second-round draft pick who wound up winning the 2005-06 rookie plum—Tautuaa and Rosario are expected to lead the ROY race.
The 6-foot-6 Rosario has been riding a stellar run since his championship romps with the Bulldogs in the UAAP and Hapee in the PBA D-League.
In the past months, the Cagayan Valley native also shone with the young Philippine Team that bagged the gold in the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore.
Rosario also suited up as the only amateur for the Manila North team that won a silver and clinched a spot in the Fiba 3×3 World Tour in Abu Dhabi.
Rosario was also the youngest at 23 in the Gilas Pilipinas pool that fought for a shot at an Olympic berth.
“Troy plays with a lot of heart, he doesn’t give up,” said Tautuaa. “He never stops. His motor never stops. He’s a hustle player, he plays smart.”
The 26-year-old Tautuaa, also a Gilas pool member, also shared how in one game, Rosario struggled early yet kept his focus and ended up starring in the team’s strong finish.
“He could have slumped and just gave up on himself,” noted Tautuaa. “But he continued to work. It’s a good trait to have—working hard and never giving up. It will get you far in life. If he’d get it (Rookie of the Year), I think that’s how he’ll get it.”
Before his stint in the Gilas pool, the 6-foot-7 Tautuaa made the most of his strength and size on the way to capturing the Most Valuable Player award in the PBA D-League.
Tautuaa—whose Filipina mother Romanita traces her roots to Taguig City—towed his D-League teams Cagayan Valley to the Finals and Cebuana Lhuillier to the Final Four, and also powered Westports Malaysia to the title round of last season’s Asean Basketball League (ABL).
“If Mo wins [the Rookie of the Year], he deserves it,” said Rosario. “In the PBA Draft, he deserves to be No. 1. His skills are there, his maturity for the game is there. He doesn’t play like a rookie. He’s one of the most talented players in the Draft. I know Mo can do a lot of things. He’s versatile, he has his shooting and strength. I know whatever happens, he deserves it. He works for it.”
Both know the expectations are high, but the debuting duo really don’t mind.
“It’s basketball,” noted Tautuaa. “That’s all we do, that’s what we love. Putting pressure on ourselves doesn’t help. It doesn’t make us better.”
“I just want to play my game, show what I can do,” added Rosario. “The pressure is big, but it’s a challenge for me.”
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