Freshman Michael Rataj makes a smooth transition to college play

Michael Rataj was gaining experience preparing for college basketball even before he arrived at Oregon State last summer.

Rataj arrived at Corvallis after spending time with four different youth national teams in his native Germany as well as a year with a German professional team.

Having played with four teams last year, the true freshman forward knows what it’s like to make adjustments to a new environment on the fly.

“It’s a great experience because now I can adapt very quickly,” Rataj said. “I try to read my teammates well in order to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

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Oregon State discovered Rataj (pronounced ruh-tie) after participating in the FIBA ​​U18 European Championships 2021. He developed a good relationship with Beavers assistant coach Marlon Stewart and coach- Chief Wayne Tinkle. Academically, he became interested in OSU because of his desire to study biohealth sciences.

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Listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, Rataj was on campus at OSU for a few weeks this summer before heading home to join Germany’s Under-20 team for the European Championships. He was back with the Beavers shortly before their August trip to Italy, where they played three games.

His desire to learn and improve helped him understand what he had been missing with his new team.

“We knew we were getting a guy who was mature beyond his years because of his professional, international playing experience,” Tinkle said. “It’s a joy to train. He works his tail. He’s the guy who works the hardest day in and day out. I just think once he adjusts and understands college play at the major level, he will continue to grow by leaps and bounds.

Rataj said what helped him the most playing professionally last year was learning to accept coaching. He had a coach who didn’t take it easy, which he appreciated because he knew it would benefit him later.

“It helped me learn to manage my training and not get frustrated if you make mistakes, especially as a youngster,” he said. “I think having this experience in a foreign country as a freshman, international student, really helped me to go through training and not get frustrated after training and keep a good attitude.”

Now at OSU, Rataj has been mentored by veterans Dexter Akanno and Glenn Taylor Jr. as he learns a new system and gets used to the program.

But Rataj himself is a leader. Fellow freshman KC Ibekwe, who joined the team in mid-September and is Rataj’s roommate, benefited from some advice.

“He’s helped me since I’ve been here,” Ibekwe said.

Rataj, who was tall for his childhood age, started playing the sport when he was 5 years old. His skills progressed, and as a teenager he began to watch college basketball and the NBA more and more. Basketball in the United States is more physical, he observed, while in Germany it is more tactical.

“I was sure I wanted to go play college basketball,” he said. “I was working on my game a lot. I was watching games, trying to see the difference in the game.”

Describing his skills, Rataj said his greatest strength was defense and his ability to guard all five positions.

“I can keep everyone in front of me, keep the best players from the opposing team,” he said. “Offensively, I am a good passer. I can make good plays with the ball in my hands.

He added that he had a good post attack but was striving to become a more consistent outside shooter, reading defenses and having better vision on the pitch.

Rataj learned defensive skills off the ball in his home state, which allowed him to quickly adapt to a similar style at Oregon State.

The trip to Italy allowed Rataj to get to know his new teammates better, both on and off the pitch. It also helped the team have a whole, with nine new scholarship players, to continue to develop their bonds.

“Being together all the time has really helped the band connect more and stay together,” Rataj said. “I think it will help us this season, even if we have a bad period. We have good chemistry and can come back very strong.

Tinkle said he’s seen “a lot of growth” from Rataj since returning in September. Of the work done by Rataj and the other freshmen, the coach added, “They’ve really come a long way to get our culture back to where it needs to be.”

Rataj, now four months into his career at Oregon State, likes what he’s seen from his new team in terms of coming together as a group and what success might be possible.

What is close to his heart is versatility at the power forward position, which can be filled by himself and fellow newcomers Tyler Bilodeau, a freshman, and Dzmitry Ryuny, a transfer graduate from San Francisco, among others.

“We can defend the big guys, we can defend the guards. We can change transfer, we can change pick and roll,” he said. “The weapons we have in this position can help us succeed this year.”

Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can connect with him on Twitter: @JesseSowaGT.

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