Three former collegiate basketball greats are missing the good, old days. Not exactly the days when they led their respective schools in the UAAP four decades ago, but the time when play was furious, tight and physical most of the time.
And when action was totally homegrown.
Foreign players or imports have gone on to dominate action in the NCAA and the UAAP with impunity. Very recently, reinforcements showed what they could do when they cornered four of the five spots on the NCAA’s Mythical Team, with only Arellano University’s talented Jio Jalalon averting a foreign sweep.
Does this augur well for the development of the collegiate leagues, or Philippine basketball for that matter?
Allan Caidic, perhaps the next biggest name to don the jersey of the University of the East Red Warriors after the legendary Robert Jaworski; Louie Alas, a standout big guard at Adamson University before knee injuries prevented him from making a lucrative career in the PBA; and Bong Ravena, who took over as King Warrior when Caidic took his craft to the pros, all think that imports in the collegiate leagues are both good and bad.
“The presence of these imports has a big negative effect among the local players,” says Caidic, a member of the PBA’s first 25 Greatest Players list and, without a doubt, the best outside gunner UE has ever produced.
Ravena shares Caidic’s view but goes one step further: He believes that imports should not be allowed to play in school leagues.
“You can’t show your worth on the floor, especially if you play the same position as your import,” says the father of past and present Ateneo stalwarts Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena. Hindi mo mailabas ang laro mo dahil sa kanila (You can’t play your game because of them).
“Imports should be in the PBA, not in college leagues. And just like in the PBA, where height limits [for imports] reinforced, the management committees of both the UAAP and NCAA should do the same.”
Ravena, the 1992 PBA Rookie of the Year who is now an assistant coach at TNT KaTropa, says it behooves the two leagues to regulate the participation of the imports—almost all of whom are tall, muscular players from Africa.
Alas believes that many of these student-athletes are nothing but mercenaries tapped to enroll and play for their respective schools for pay.
“What would you call them otherwise?” says Alas, a three-time NCAA champion coach with Letran (1998, 2003, 2005) when his Knights played without a foreign player. “It would be okay if these players really came to the country to study, got discovered in the school intramurals and improved tremendously enough to make it to their schools’ lineups.
“But being recruited abroad to play first and then study later is a different story. I’ve even heard of stories in which some of these players were comparing the allowances they get from their schools.”
What happened in the recent NCAA player awards rite has forced the hand of the league’s management committee to come up with a “Best Import” plum for foreigners starting next year. From then on, only Filipino players can vie for the MVP trophy or be voted into the Mythical Team.
Apart from Cagayan de Oro’s Jalalon, the best five players in the NCAA’s 92nd Season, were Allwell Oraeme of Mapua, who bagged his second straight MVP award on top of the Defensive Player of the Year plum; fellow Nigerian Bright Akhuetie of Perpetual Help, and Cameroonians Donald Tankoua of San Beda and Hamadou Laminou of Emilio Aguinaldo College.
“In a way, the imports’ presence can help the local players improve because they will be playing against bigger and heftier opponents, many of whom are superior talent-wise,” says Caidic. “But at the same time, the slots in the teams these foreigners take deny local players the opportunity to shine.”
Caidic echoes Alas’ opinion on foreign student-athletes who play not for financial considerations. He recalls the case of Anthony Williams, the American medical student who powered Far Eastern University to two undefeated seasons.
The bull-strong Williams went on to become a physician and now practices in the United States. He was never heard of as a basketball player, though, after ending his collegiate career here.
“If that’s the case, it’s good,” Caidic says. “Williams was able to help his school win the championship and become a doctor for which he came here. But I was there [at UE], I think, during the last year of Williams. We couldn’t beat them (Tamaraws). It was both fair and unfair because he was a legitimate student but unlike us, FEU had an import.”
Alas blames the lack of talented big men joining the PBA Draft on the presence of these college imports. Alaska, where Alas is a deputy to coach Alex Compton, has the 11th pick in today’s rookie pool but can’t see a big man worth drafting.
“The [imports] are taking away the opportunity for local centers to polish their games on the big collegiate stage,” says Alas. “If you’re not playing in the UAAP or the NCAA, where would you get the chance to show your abilities?”
Happily, though, both leagues have come up with rules that will cut the presence of the imports in their lineups. In November 2014, the UAAP started the process of banning foreign players from the league, limiting teams to one import each and stopping the recruitment altogether next season.
But Caidic has seen something that makes him believe that the schools will not adhere to the new rule.
“When their import is about to graduate, you can be sure that schools are already planning to enroll replacement imports,” he says.
“The sad part of it is that these imports don’t have a [playing] career to look forward to here after graduating. They are totally different from the overseas-based players with Filipino roots who can be asked to play for the national team.”
As far as these schools are concerned, national team interest and the welfare of the local players seem to have taken the backseat because some of them even have two imports. Take for instance, University of Perpetual Help, which plays 6-foot-8 Bright Akhuetie and 6-11 Prince Eze, both Nigerians.
Schools with money to spend gamble on hiring standout imports to power their teams to collegiate titles and thus gain bragging rights to lure more enrollees.
Winning championships has been paramount, and from where collegiate greats Cadic, Alas and Ravena sit, it seems that’s the biggest reason of all.
For the complete collegiate sports coverage including scores, schedules and stories, visit Inquirer Varsity.