Halftime Thoughts: The race for Filipino-foreign basketball players in the UAAP

As the UAAP comes alive once again with more of its events returning amid the pandemic, the trend of half-Filipino and one-and-done players continues to rise in the league.

As the UAAP comes alive once again with more of its events returning amid the pandemic, the trend of half-Filipino and one-and-done players continues to rise in the league. Universities are becoming more competitive in fielding recruits from overseas.

For some, this trend indirectly denies players from the local grassroots the opportunity to compete at the collegiate level. Will the league’s direction affect the development of our local basketball players, or will it help lift competitiveness?

High-level competition

Basketball is often marketed as an international sport. A global league like the NBA in the United States is home to several talents, such as Manu Ginóbili, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokić, who are some of the league’s many accomplished overseas-born players. Having a diverse and talented pool of players in one league can increase the level of competition, as evidenced by these recruits.

On the other hand, collegiate basketball has been a breeding ground for hoopers who want to climb up the ranks of the game in the Philippines. In order to be competitive, much value is given to recruitment by UAAP schools nowadays, especially when compared to the past, where priority was given to young talents from high school teams who were transitioned to their college counterparts. A great example is Kiefer Ravena of the ADMU Blue Eagles, who won back-to-back MVP awards in the UAAP juniors division with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets before later joining the collegiate team—with whom he also bagged two MVP awards in UAAP Seasons 77 and 78.

Now teams are keener on recruiting players that can make an immediate impact on the floor. The trend of one-and-done players started making waves in 2019, where players who had already received a bachelor’s degree would still play by enrolling in a master’s degree program to use up their eligibility, as ruled by the UAAP. The DLSU Green Archers took advantage of this by recruiting Jamie Malonzo, who had a short but memorable career for La Salle.

Instant impact

This era of collegiate basketball also started the trend of recruiting Filipino-American players from the United States, but it was three years after, in UAAP Season 84, that the league felt the impact of the movement. After a sudden lull due to the cancellation brought about by the pandemic, teams quickly moved to scout players that could help bolster their rosters in the following seasons. Zavier Lucero of the University of the Philippines (UP), Schonny Winston of De La Salle University (DLSU), and Kyle Paranada of the University of the East (UE) are some of the notable players who contributed to their team’s success in the recent seasons.

La Salle’s Schonny Winston was the top scorer after the first round of UAAP Season 85, averaging 21.29 points per game in the first round despite the Green Archers’ lackluster performance. UE Red Warriors’ Paranada and one-and-done Filipino-American player Luis Villegas have also steered the Recto-based squad to a 3-4 start, shocking the UAAP community and maybe even themselves. Both are among the top 10 scorers in the league, averaging 14.29 and 13 points, respectively.

Last season’s championship-winning UP Fighting Maroons had 6’7” Lucero in their roster, as he proved to be vital to their campaign. Lucero’s ability to play off-ball with Carl Tamayo made all the difference, as their combined versatility to play both forward positions in addition to center—which is not common in the league—created nightmares for their opponents.

Not for all

Having Filipino-American players on the team also means having fewer spots for homegrown players to showcase their talent. The influx of overseas-born talent has motivated some players to transfer to different collegiate leagues instead, like the Philippines’ National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The likes of Will Gozum and Robert Bolick are some of the most recent transfers to the NCAA who unleashed their full potential after their big move.

Building a championship team can be done either by building it from the ground up through the development of young talents from the junior division or by recruiting top athletes from around the world. Nowadays, big-name schools often recruit players outside the country to bolster their roster and increase their chances of competing for the title, while small schools with smaller budgets have no choice but to settle for local talents.

Game of the generals

Today, commercial deals with several different products, such as shoes, clothing, and sports drinks, and social media interaction are important factors in the players’ careers. As much as a university or coach’s winning track record is one of the factors that decide where players go, teams and their recruiters know that players must also account for where they could benefit outside of basketball. It is inevitable that teams with deeper pockets will have more to offer to highly-recruited high school standouts.

The league is imposing an allowance cap of P15,000 a month starting this season. Will that be enough for the league to provide all teams with a fair chance of recruiting top players to come to represent their school?

The big question now, however, is whether or not the league is capable of monitoring the allowances that universities give to their student-athletes. Will there be a penalty for schools going over the maximum, and would they be transparent to the public with this rule?

In the meantime, if the athletes’ benefits are not actively monitored, big universities are sure to continue grabbing big-name Filipinos for their own—foreign and local players alike.

Raphael Serrano

By Raphael Serrano

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