Who really stands to benefit from the ban?

By Klyde Manansala | Photos by Luis Tamondong

After years of debates, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has finally decided to rule out all foreign players from all sports categories by Season 96, regardless of how many years they still have left to play.

According to NCAA management committee chairman Frank Gusi, foreign players who are still eligible to play after Season 96 will not be excused. This prohibition will most likely affect schools getting enormous help from non-Filipino players like Clement Lentcheu of College of St. Benilde.

In 2016, Jio Jalalon was the only homegrown player who was included in Season 92’s Mythical Five selection. The other four—Allwell Oraeme, Donald Tankoua, Bright Akhuetie, and Hamadou Laminou—were all foreigners. In the last two seasons, Finals MVP awardees were also non-Filipinos: Arnaud Noah and Tankoua of San Beda Red Lions.

With this ruling, some locals will see more action and will rely less on their foreign teammates. But just because imports are part of the game doesn’t mean locals can’t step up. Just because there are foreign players doesn’t mean teams can’t rely on their local talents

With all the recognitions given to foreign players who have been naturally successful in dominating their positions, a suggestion to have a separate category for foreigners was even discussed. But, instead of pushing through with the idea, foreign athletes were eventually banned—at least not until 2020.

Was it right though to forbid foreign student-athletes who somehow intensify the level of competition by challenging locals to step up their game? Does the league need foreign players for the locals to improve?

LPU Pirates import Mike Nzeusseu lends his hands to Robert Bolick of San Beda Red Lions

With this ban, the NCAA will refocus on their primary goal: to develop and nurture local athletes. Sure, 90 percent of the league are Filipinos and a handful of them often makes it and shines in the PBA. But the decision to ban non-Filipino players is hurtful for hardworking and committed foreign student-athletes.

Basketball is a global sport, I get it. Having foreign players on the floor is instrumental to locals—not just in the Philippines but everywhere, really—to rise to global competition. But I do also think that Philippine collegiate basketball can and will improve even without foreign cagers. With this ruling, some locals will see more action and will rely less on their foreign teammates. But just because imports are part of the game doesn’t mean locals can’t step up. Just because there are foreign players doesn’t mean teams can’t rely on their local talents. Look at the LPU Pirates—they went undefeated in the eliminations round last season not because they relied on Mike Nzeusseu alone but because they played as a great team. And oh, who were the best players of the Pirates that time? CJ Perez, the Marcellino twins, and Reymar Caduyac: all Pinoys who gave the entire league a hard time including powerhouse San Beda Red Lions.

Let’s cut to the chase. Even with the talent Pinoys have, losing foreigners could water down the competitiveness they provide to the leagues or lose the chance to adjust their style of play given the size and athleticism of these foreigners.

Was it right though to forbid foreign student-athletes who somehow intensify the level of competition by challenging locals to step up their game? Does the league need foreign players for the locals to improve?

These student-athlete foreigners aren’t just basketball players, they’re staying for their education too. Imports have also been in the league for a couple of years already so why ban them now? There is already a rule limiting each college team to sign just two imports.

Just like the Letran Knights who until now practice the tradition of playing with an all-Filipino lineup. They won the 2015 NCAA championship against the San Beda Red Lions who had Ola Adeogun and Tankoua, two of the best imports the NCAA ever had. Whom did Letran have that time? No imports. Just determined local players like Mark Cruz, Jom Sollano and Kevin Racal.

But now that the league has finalized its decision, perhaps we should now focus on how to retain a more global brand of play with an all-Filipino league. How do we exactly do that? For one, it’s not far from happening if we start to embrace an international style of play like what Tab Baldwin, the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ chief tactician, has been trying to inject in Philippine basketball culture in the past years.

According to Baldwin, the country needs to look at basketball as more than an American sport. Instead, coaches and players must start discerning the game by playing it the European way—where game is much more dominated by brains instead of just brawn, similar to how Euro leagues and FIBA basketball games are played.

Regardless of what the future holds for both sides of the argument, one thing is clear: Banning imports is an easy way out.