SportsAbu Tratter: Life away from Taft
Abu Tratter: Life away from Taft

Despite standing at 6’6, Abu Tratter stayed away from the spotlight during his collegiate days with the DLSU Green Archers as he did his job completely under the radar. The Filipino-American was overlooked several times but it did not stop him from helping the Green-and-White reach the finals twice and clinch a championship at the expense of archrivals ADMU Blue Eagles in Season 79 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Fast forward to today, Tratter is now a vital player for the Marinerong Pilipino in the Philippine Basketball Association Developmental-League (PBA D-League) and is one of the 23 prospects that are in contention to make the final Gilas-Pilipinas roster in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, which will be held here in the Philippines.

 

Collegiate years

Tratter’s UAAP debut came in Season 77 and he immediately had an impact even though he only played back-up minutes to Norbert Torres and Arnold Van Opstal. The Green-and-White reached the Final Four as the third seed but was ousted by the FEU Tamaraws after Mac Belo made a clutch three-pointer at the right corner as the time expired. The following season, La Salle failed to sneak in the top four after finishing the elimination round with six wins and eight losses.

Season 79 was the big-man’s breakout season as Tratter started almost every game at power forward, with Ben Mbala playing the center position. Former DLSU head coach Aldin Ayo completely utilized the defensive prowess of the Fil-Am as he became one of the anchors of the “Mayhem System”. The athleticism of Tratter was a bother for slow-footed big men while his height and strength was a problem for shorter bigs. He ended his breakout season with a title as La Salle swept the Blue Eagles in the finals.

His final season with the Green Archers was a tough one as the Green-and-White failed to defend their crown and was beaten by an improved ADMU squad in the finals. Tratter also lost his starting spot to emerging rookie Santi Santillian.

 

PBA D-League

Even after maximizing his playing years for the Green Archers in the UAAP, Tratter did not stay away from the game for long. Soon after the UAAP finals ended, the big man from La Salle was drafted by Marinerong Pilipino in the PBA D-League. Alongside Tratter was another big man from the UAAP, Vince Tolentino. While it’s unusual to see two players from the rival schools team up and play together, the former Green Archer says playing with Tolentino has been easy. “Vince is a very very mild tempered guy, he’s very shy but at the same time, he gets his job done so we’re complementing each other’s game.”

Tratter also indicates that the talk of blue and green would sometimes pop up in their practices since Koy Banal, head coach of Marinerong Pilipino, likes to make fun of the budding chemistry between the two. With ADMU grabbing the title away from La Salle in Season 80, friendly banter is unavoidable whenever they see each other. The former Lasallian shares that Tolentino comes to their practices wearing a championship shirt but Tratter said that he used do it before as well. “I used to rock it when we won. I definitely give him some rants.”

The PBA D-League will always be a step-up from the collegiate scene as it is a mixture of aspiring amateur players preparing for the big league while some participants are former PBA players trying to get a call-up and return in the Philippines’ only professional basketball league. Although in this conference’s Aspirants Cup, the D-League has welcomed a few UAAP and NCAA teams. When asked about how it is playing with NCAA teams, Tratter says, “Definitely you get away with a lot of calls. It’s a lot dirtier you know, of course, because NCAA teams are good at cheap shots and nothing that I haven’t gone through in the UAAP. NCAA, they’re a little bit better at hiding it.”

According to Tratter, playing with Marinerong Pilipino in the PBA D-League is fun as he is able to compete with his teammates in their practices and against new opponents in every game. He then stresses that the competitive nature in the PBA D-League not only improves his game but everybody else’s. The big man pointed out that adapting to the new environment is very crucial. “As far as right now, the transition between playing against UAAP players and playing against pros is one of the biggest things as a player for me to transition to, making sure that my body is right and my mental is right for the future games, taking on bigger and tougher opponents.”

 

Gilas call-up

In order for the 2023 Gilas training pool to get exposure playing against professional players as soon as possible, Reyes combines the current set of Gilas players with the younger batch in their practices every Monday. The current set of National Team players is led by reigning PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, veteran point guard Jayson Castro, former UAAP MVP Kiefer Ravena, and naturalized center Andray Blatche.

When asked about being part of the Gilas program, Tratter’s face lit up and shares his story with a huge smile. “It’s a blessing. Definitely a different atmosphere. You could feel it once you walk into the gym, you see Japeth [Aguilar], you see all these big time names, you try to absorb everything. You try be a sponge out there, absorb the team, absorb coach Chot’s coaching which is great. You’ll know different plays in there and definitely one of the biggest things right now is seeing Andray. Big guy, dribble the ball, shoot threes, just beautiful.”

The former Green Archer states that he did not expect the call-up that happened in the first week of January this year. “I’m a type of guy that just works hard. If ever, it was just something I would’ve prayed for. It was something that I worked hard to try to be included in.”

With a large number of established players present during practices, Tratter did not let this great opportunity slip by. He was able to extract priceless information from several players including fellow big men in Fajardo and Aguilar but Tratter says that Gabe Norwood has been important in his development as well. “My main tips come from Gabe just ‘cause you know, he has a very high IQ.”

Tratter also shares his thoughts about the inclusion of some players chosen in the 2023 training pool. One of these players was college teammate Ricci Rivero, who recently cut ties his with the Green Archers due to his contractual obligations with existisng endorsements. Despite leaving the Green-and-White, Rivero has been dropping by in the Gilas practices even though he was not included in the original 23-man list by Reyes. “It’s good to have somebody I know out there so it’s nice to see him in practices.”

“It’s very tough, not only physically but mentally. Coach Chot does a good job of challenging each and every one of us,” Tratter says when asked about the level of difficulty in the training sessions of Gilas. This only proves that the gap between the college level and the national team level is wide and that there is more room for improvement for the former Green Archer.