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  1. In, Out, Drum Roll Please (Part 1)

    In the UAAP it sometimes comes down to whatever the powers-that-be say when it comes to who gets to play and who does not.

    With Season 81 set to open this weekend, quite a few players have been talked about, as to whether or not they will play and how those scenarios all work out.

    Most of the players being discussed in various online discussion boards and social media seem to be the big men.

    Let us start with the biggest one, Ateneo's newly minted superstar center, 6-11 Angelo Kouame.

    Kouame is from the Ivory Coast, and came to the Ateneo about a year and a half ago, first just hanging around behind the Ateneo bench during UAAP games, and later on becoming part of their Fr Martin Cup team.

    In the Fr Martin, Kouame was a huge presence inside, collaring rebounds and blocking shots and also getting the odd put-back. No one really knew he would become as good as he has become now.

    The question with him is whether or not he has actually met the local residency requirement for UAAP foreign athletes.

    This is important because Kouame has not yet enrolled in the Ateneo, having finished high school in some small boutique school. Let us be clear that this is not about whether or not Kouame is a legitimate student, or whether or not he finished high school in a legitimate institution. The question is simply whether or not, having spent only one full academic year at said boutique school, Kouame has already fulfilled the residency requirement of the UAAP and thus allowing him to play already in Season 81.

    There are two schools of thought here:

    1) Kouame is not yet eligible because the student must serve his residency in the school for which he will see varsity action in the UAAP. That is after all the whole point of residency, i.e. you reside with the school. Remember, although Kouame was lined up by the Ateneo on its Fr Martin team, he was not yet enrolled in the school at the time. Fr Martin Cup organizers may or may not have been aware of this, and even if they were, the Fr Martin isn't really as strict as the UAAP when it comes to eligibility. If this holds, then Kouame must sit out one year now that he is enrolled in the Ateneo, making him eligible to play only come Season 82.

    2) Kouame is eligible because residency means only actually being in the country. Kouame has been in the country for at least a year and a half. Heck he even finished high school here. If this holds then he can play right away and we will see more of him throughout Season 81.

    For the reigning champion Blue Eagles, this is a very important issue that must be decided quickly. In all honesty, their prospects of a successful title defense depend about 90% on Kouame being able to play.

    Next up is Taane Samuel, the 6-8 Filipino-New Zealander with Lasalle.

    Samuel's case is a little trickier, legally speaking.

    He was apparently born and raised in New Zealand but his mother is a full-blooded Filipina who migrated there, making her a natural born Filipino citizen, at least when she was born.

    Lasalle would love to have him play as a local, thereby allowing the Green Archers to line up an import, perhaps that Socka fellow who saw action in a few off-season tournaments.

    If Samuel were applying to play as a Filipino-foreigner in the PBA, all he would have to do is present documentation that his mother is a natural-born Filipina who migrated to New Zealand and that would be the end of it.

    Things are not quite that simple in the UAAP, and not always because of what the UAAP rules say or do not say. A lot of times, all it takes is one member-school's representative to raise a shitstorm over a player and suddenly things get messy.

    Samuel also apparently played on one of the FIBA Youth Teams of New Zealand, which was another thing counted against him. How indeed could a Filipino possibly play for another country's national youth team?

    Samuel however can play right away, as an import or as a local, since he has completed the residency requirements of the UAAP, being enrolled in Lasalle the last couple of academic years.

    Samuel will add a lot of quality size and skill to an already imposing Lasalle frontline no matter how he is considered.

    (To be continued)
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  2. How Hard Could It Be

    With the UAAP about to start its 81st season this weekend, Mr Libog's thoughts naturally turned to thoughts of championship.

    "How hard could it be?" He repeated that question probably at least a dozen times over lunch at this new Vietnamese restaurant near where we live.

    (Note to friends: you should all give it a try, its called Ba Noi, inside Kapitolyo, in Pasig, their Pho is truly inspired, and huge, good for two if you have normal appetites.)

    Going back to our conversation, Mr Libog was off on another one of his discussions on basketball common sense.

    "Pare naman, hindi naman imposibleng talunin ng Ateneo ang Lasalle last year. Apat na vetreran starters ang nawala sa Lasalle, apat 'yon ha!," he emphasized.

    "Tapos ang pinalit mo, isang mad bomber na converted point guard, na-dengue pa along the way. 'Yung isa magaling na sana, kaya lang siempre may pagka-bwakaw, tsaka magulo maglaro. Take note, pareho pa silang sophomores, second year lang sa college parehas," he continued.

    I reminded him that they still had arguably the best player ever to set foot on a UAAP court in maybe the last 20 years, the incomparable Benoit Mbala. Plus they also had a veteran transferee in 6-5 slam dunk champion Leonard Santillan, and veteran 6-5 Fil-American Abu Tratter. Heck, they even had Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, Jollo Go, and 6-8 Justin (I am not spelling that with an "e" at the end because that is the feminine spelling and I don't care what it says on his birth certificate) Baltazar.

    "Sino ba point guard dun? Sino may hawak nung bola parati? Nakakarating ba kay Mbala?" he rattled off.

    "Tsaka, pare naman, may nakita ka bang galaw o pukol ni Mbala? Naalala mo ba si Orlando Johnson o kaya si Justin Brownlee sa laro ni Mbala? Hindi 'di ba? Sabi ko naman sa iyo wala naman talaga siyang pukol, matigas ang kamay, kita mo naman sa freethrows niya. Hindi din naman siya tipong kamador na may pullup or may tres gaya nina Johnson at Brownlee," he continued.

    Still, said I, Mbala is a heck of a player, and since this is only college ball, that makes him a titan on the court, plus as much as Mr Libog may have ripped into Mbala's teammates, no one would ever dispute there are probably more PBA players on Lasalle last year than the Ateneo did.

    I further reminded him that he himself made a pre-Season 80 prediction that Lasalle would repeat as champions, due largely, I reminded him further still, to, in his words, "Mbala wala talagang katapat."

    It was in fact the first time he said, "How hard could it be?" And indeed how hard could it be to win when you have a 6-6 titan on your side.

    "You remember I keep telling you how in the US NCAA it is normally the teams that do not have an NBA lottery prospect that wins the national championship?" he said.

    "I'm talking about teams like Villanova, UConn, etc. In the last 10 years, only the Kentucky team of Anthony Davis had a 1-done lottery prospect and won the national title, all the rest are mostly veteran teams," he explained.

    "Ganyan din actually sa UAAP, hindi naman just sheer talent. Look at Mbala's title team. Meron siyang Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Thomas Torres, Julian Sargent. Last year Mbala has two ball-dominant sophomores who barely played in their freshman year, a transferee playing for the first time in the UAAP, and a so-so talent whose best asset is he's a 6-5 Fil-Am."

    And he played against what, a bunch of all stars?

    "No, but Ateneo had veterans by then, battle-tested na. Thirdy Ravena, the Nieto twins, Anton Asistio, George Go, Vince Tolentino, even Ikeh, how many years have they been playing together? Graduate na nga sina Vince at Ikeh eh, Thirdy sat out a whole year pa, so that was how old that team was."

    "Same with Lasalle last year as well, nawalan sila ng apat na fifth-year starters. When they had all of those guys, especially Jeron, how hard could it be?"

    (I told you guys he said that a lot over lunch...)

    "So this year, fearless forecast ko, basta palaruin si (Angelo) Kouame, taya ko bahay namin pati lahat ng kotse ko, champion ang Ateneo," he declared.

    What if Kouame is ruled ineligible to play?

    "Sure Final 4 pa din, with a few breaks, or maybe some freethrow help from the referees, Finals pa din ang Ateneo. How hard could it be?"

    Everybody else?

    "UST and UE will dispute the cellar. All the rest rambulan na lang, although lamang na for Final 4 berths siguro FEU tsaka Adamson."

    There you have it folks.

    How hard could it be...
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