JP Erram took his time staring at his new yellow jersey.
The restart of the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup was two days away and the TNT Tropang Giga ended their practice with team manager Gabby Cui distributing their new uniforms.
While his teammates quickly put on theirs, Erram set his down on the floor and took a picture first. Then he stood behind his teammates for a socially-distanced photo.
"I've waited for this for so long," he said in Filipino. "Back then, I didn't even care if I played. I just wanted to wear a TNT jersey and sit on the bench. That would have been enough for me."
During the 2013 PBA Draft, TNT selected Erram as the 15th overall pick. It caught him off guard as his agent said he might fall into the third round as he was coming off a knee injury. It worked out well for Erram as TNT trained at the Moro Lorenzo Gym inside the Ateneo campus while he was still finishing up on his studies. He was given a practice player contract and was part of the scouting team that would emulate TNT's opponents to prepare them for the games.
Erram learned from the likes of Ranidel De Ocampo, Harvey Carey, and Kelly Williams, hoping that someday he could share the floor with them in a PBA game. However, it was not meant to be. At least, not yet.
Erram was unsurprisingly left out of TNT's protected list when the PBA welcomed two expansion teams in 2014.
"Poy had a lot of potential even back then when I was teammates with him," said De Ocampo who is now one of TNT's assistant coaches. "He has good height and good defensive skills. He really helped us out as part of our scout team. Unfortunately for him, we had a deep team and could only protect 12 players.
Blackwater selected him at the 11th spot of the 2014 Dispersal Draft, after his TNT teammate Jai Reyes. Erram had a tough rookie season but he would blossom for the Elite, becoming an All-Star, the league leader in blocks, a member of the Mythical Second Team, and even the PBA's Defensive Player of the Year.
He continued to turn heads until he was given the opportunity to play for Gilas Pilipinas led by coach Yeng Guiao, who would ultimately jump on the chance to get him to play for the NLEX Road Warriors.
However, his stint with NLEX would prove to be short as he landed with TNT after only a season.
"Just putting on this jersey is a dream come true for me," Erram said. "Me and my wife often talked about this because even if TNT was not able to protect me back then, they saw the work I put in and they still made an effort to get me."
Erram's TNT debut was something he has long dreamed of. However, it did not pan out the way he imagined. He was called for an unsportsmanlike foul early in the game and he was ejected with 20 seconds remaining in the third quarter after a technical foul.
The last game he played also ended in a similar note. Playing for the Road Warriors, he was involved in a scuffle against NorthPort Batang Pier import Michael Qualls that got him ejected. He was also suspended for their next match in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Governors' Cup, a game where NLEX was eliminated.
Against the Alaska Aces in the opening game of the PBA Bubble, Erram finished with 4 points, eight rebounds, and six assists in 16 minutes on the floor. Luckily for him, RR Pogoy and Jayson Castro had exceptional performances with 45 and 28 points, respectively, to lead the Tropang Giga to a tough 100-95 win.
After the game, Erram was the first name that Pogoy mentioned during his Best Player interview.
"I thank Poy because he was the one who assisted on my first basket," he said, making sure that his new teammate still felt like a part of the win even if he was not on the floor.
This is what Erram is getting with TNT. It's a squad that has built a culture of having each other's backs. It started with Jimmy Alapag and is still there because of guys like Carey and Ryan Reyes.
Erram sometimes lets his emotions get the better of him but he's been working hard to control these explosions. The leadership he'll get from the veterans of TNT might help but he needs to realize that this team will be chasing a championship and they'll need him to be on the floor as much as possible.
"He just has to be patient," said TNT head coach Bong Ravena. "We'll be here to support him. I know he gets frustrated sometimes because he's still adjusting to his role and learning how we play but we're here for him. We'll be patient with him, but he also has to be patient with himself."