Limited as a practice player when he first came to the Philippine Basketball Association seven years ago, big man JP Erram is returning to a TNT franchise that is now looking to him as the missing piece to a championship puzzle.
It’s been five years since the KaTropa lifted a championship trophy, the 2015 Commissioner’s Cup, but Erram is coming back as a more complete player, raising the title hopes of the flagship team of the MVP group in the league that has seen San Miguel win eight championships in the last six years.
“Actually, I’m not going to lie, I felt the pressure of winning a championship as soon as I was traded to TNT,” the 6-foot-7 star from Cagayan de Oro City said in the 2OT podcast.
“I’m not considering myself as the missing piece because as a team, TNT is strong. I don’t think they need another really good player. I think players should accept their roles in the team and also sacrifice for the team.”
That was a far cry from when Erram entered the league in 2013 when TNT made him the 15th pick of a draft that had big men Greg Slaughter, Ian Sangalang and Raymond Almazan as the top three picks.
Still hampered by a knee injury from his collegiate days at Ateneo, Erram was reduced to the role of a practice player, battling the likes of veterans Ranidel de Ocampo, Danny Seigle, Ali Peek, Kelly Williams and Rob Reyes in scrimmages. But the rookie was actually fine with his role as he was still finishing his studies at Ateneo. TNT holds practices at Moro Lorenzo Gym inside the Ateneo campus.
“When TNT drafted me, it was a blessing because I was still studying and practices were also at Ateneo,” Erram recalled. “I was just rehabbing my knee for 10 months. I wasn’t playing but I played against the TNT veterans in practice.”
Erram had wanted to quit basketball a year before because of his injuries. But the opportunity to learn from legends like De Ocampo rejuvenated his spirit.
“I was overwhelmed,” Erram said. “It really helped my confidence. These veterans would play one-on-one against me so I learned a lot from them.”
Left unsigned by TNT a year later, Erram was picked by expansion team Blackwater in the dispersal draft, signaling a career renaissance for the big man. Erram was acquired by NLEX last season, before a complicated three-team trade brought him back to TNT.
“I’m here to fill a role in TNT,” Erram said. “I really want to help the team, especially Kelly. I’m not really a scorer, but I would do anything that they need from me.”
Erram said he is looking forward to playing alongside 11-year veteran Jayson Castro, who is fresh off one of his finest seasons last year.
“He knows how to attract the defense every time he has the ball,” Erram said in Filipino. “I’m always excited and ready every time he makes a drop pass. Even in practice I get surprised that the ball is already with me. He always tells me to be ready and be aware on how to attack the defense.”
Entering the season, Erram was brimming with optimism. Unfortunately, the league suspended the Philippine Cup on the day TNT was making its season debut against NorthPort on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The league is still waiting for the green light from the government to restart practices.
“We already had a two-week camp before the season and we were really prepared,” Erram said. “I felt welcome at TNT and coach Mark [Dickel] was really hands-on in teaching me the team’s system. I’m just looking forward to resuming practice and adjusting again.” INQ
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