THIS early, Moala Tautuaa Jr. is being tipped to be the top pick overall in the 2015 PBA rookie draft.
A mainstay of the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the Asean Basketball League (ABL), the Fil-Tongan has certainly caught the attention of PBA ballclubs after playing in a series of tune-up games against Gilas Pilipinas and other local ballclubs over the last few days.
They Said It!
“(Moala Tautuaa) is as strong as an axe. He can bulldoze you to the basket and the guy can jump." PBA center Asi Taulava
And why not?
The 6-foot-7 Tautuaa is blessed with a wide physique and strong upper body, but he has shown quickness and agility that could redefine the position in the pro league.
Here, watch a video of some of the dunks he pulled off against Blackwater Sports on Monday:
Asi Taulava is definitely impressed.
“Moala? Boy, he is as strong as an axe. He can bulldoze you to the basket and the guy can jump,” said former ABL and PBA MVP Taulava. “He is good. Moala is bound to become a dominant force in the PBA.
"He is still raw, but he has a huge room for improvement. The boy is very good.”
Tautuaa is inevitably often compared to fellow Fil-Tongan Taulava, but the bearded big man said his game is actually closer to Ginebra forward Japeth Aguilar's.
“I can see myself a little bit like Japeth. He’s a big man, athletic, moves well. Yeah, I can see myself move like him,” said the former Chadron University standout.
After playing against Tautuaa, Gilas Pilipinas forward Ranidel De Ocampo was surprised to learn that he is half-Filipino.
“Magaling 'yun. Malakas, mataas tumalon. Wala lang shooting. Pero alam niyang gamitin katawan niya, high percentage shot lagi,” said the Best Player awardee of the last PBA Governors Cup.
“Lagi siyang go-hard, mahilig mag-rebound. Tingin ko pag-aagawan yan next year pag nagpa-draft,” he added.
Tautuaa said he wasn't able to get the needed exposure in the US as he only played for an NCAA Division II school, but that doesn't mean he didn't get to play against some of the best players in the world.
“I’ve played against (James) Harden, I’ve played against Chase Budinger, Brandon Jennings. We had this AAU tournaments, I played against them there,” he said, referring the Amateur Athletic Union tournament.
“I’ve played them all and I did well. But back then our game was a team thing, not one person just stood out. It wasn’t a one-man show. It was our team versus everyone,” he added.
Asked what made him decide to pursue a PBA career next year, Tautuaa bared his mother, Romanita, a longtime fan of San Miguel Beer, has long regaled him with stories about Asia's first pro league.
“I heard about the PBA when I was very little. I love the Philippines, it’s where I am from. My family is based here and I want them to see me do well in life,” he said.
“My mom has told me that the PBA is a great league to play in, everyone loves you. You get to walk around like Kobe (Bryant). You get to walk around like a star … so hopefully I can be one of those,” he said with a smile.
But Tautuaa bared that it wasn’t only his mom who has been egging him to jump to the PBA, but also his former roommate and teammate with the Dragons, Justin Melton, who now plays for San Mig.
“He (Melton) tells me all the great stories and it has made me more excited to come. Yes, I am ready for the PBA. I gotta make it. I know I can … I believe in myself,” he said.
“I know I have what it takes, but I just get into the process, I have to pay my dues,” Tautuaa said while revealing how he is now working on his citizenship papers to prove his Filipino lineage.
Tautuaa’s mother, who was born and raised in Taguig, said her son is really aching to play in the NBA.
“We’re thinking about him going to NBA. But we had a lot of offers and it was good,” said Romanita, who had a short meeting with Blackwater Sports team owner Dioceldo Sy during the Dragons tune-up with the Elite on Monday morning.
Tautuaa’s dad, Moala Sr., believes that his son is more than ready: “He needs to be in there. What he got, he needs to unload it somewhere. And I know when he gets there (PBA) he can prove his worth more than double.”
Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia, who discovered Tautuaa, said the 24-year-old is bound to leave his mark in the PBA.
“Malakas yung batang 'yun. I think he is PBA ready. Maraming pahihirapan 'yun. Tignan mo naman gumalaw. Malaki katawan pero maliksi. That kid can go places,” said Vanguardia, a former coach of Talk 'N Text.