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In Your Face!

Development and Imports

Rating: 4 votes, 5.00 average.
So the UAAP has finally done it.

Rod Roque of the University of the East, the UAAP Secretary-Treasurer for this season, declared in a sportswriters forum, "Starting Season 78 only one foreign player will be allowed in the lineup."

“We are also thinking of the possibility that by 2015-2016, there will be no more recruitment of foreign players. Soon, there will be no foreign players na nandito. Patatapusin na lang,” Roque added further.

That means that schools have up to academic year 2015 - 2016 only to recruit foreigners to play, at least in UAAP basketball.

Considering the school that Roque represents has three African imports - Charles Mammie, Moustafa Arafat, and Bernard Awana - it is mighty strange that this policy should be passed during the year UE is the UAAP host. I mean, for cryin' out loud, a school with three imports of its own already in tow, one would think they would be among the most vociferous to object to such a policy, if only for selfish reasons.

We are not privy to how the process went in arriving at this policy; a policy that has a profound impact on all UAAP schools. Roque was not able to elaborate too much if this just applies to college basketball or to all UAAP sports. I think this will be - even more controversially - confined only to the flagship men's senior division basketball event.

I'm not sure how and why any UAAP school, especially the weaker programs, could go along with this policy.

First of all, in basketball, height is still very much might. In our country, finding a quality player six feet or taller, especially in that sweet spot big man range of 6'4" and taller, is inherently difficult. Filipinos are on average only 5'4" or so in height. At 5'8" your humble servant is already considered tall in our country. Yet no one ever has, nor ever will be confused for a quality basketball player. Finding a credible, UAAP-senior grade guard (the usual position played by guys my size) is difficult as it is. How much more difficult could it be finding a credible UAAP-senior grade big man, 6'4" or taller, in a country that is made up of guys mostly a foot shorter?

How then to make up for that gap? Recruit a quality import, usually from Africa. UE's Mammie, 6'7" and 250 pounds, built like the proverbial brick outhouse, arguably the most powerful board cleaner in the league, more than makes up for the lack of quality UE big men. Where would UE be without him?

Some might say, without imports then nobody has an edge, especially in size. Tell that to National University, who had a 6'7" pogo stick with a jumpshot in Troy Rosario, or to Far Eastern, who has 6'4" do-it-all forward Mac Belo, or Lasalle, who had the pair of 6'6" Norbert Torres and 6'7" Arnold Van Opstal. FEU even has its own 6'7" pogo stick in Russell Escoto, who sat out part of this season with an assortment of injuries. All of these guys bring quality size up front.

UE was somehow able to compete toe to toe with them just because they have Mammie, and Arafat as well. Next season they can only line up one import. What happens if Mammie gets into foul trouble?

History will also show that imports do not offer much of an advantage. Look no further once again than newly-crowned champion NU. NU is the first team to have a star import win the men's senior basketball title in 6'6" Cameroonian Alfred Aroga. As good as Aroga is he got plenty of help from Rosario up front, and from the likes of Glenn Khobuntin, Gelo Alolino, Jay Alejandro, and Rev Diputado. So in 77 seasons the UAAP has crowned exactly one champion that had a star import. So it isn't as if NU won strictly, exclusively, and only because of Aroga.

This of course is not the same with the NCAA. In eight of its last nine seasons, a team with a star import won their men's senior basketball title, the San Beda Red Lions.

But again, it would be a fallacy to think that it is strictly, exclusively, and only because of their imports that San Beda has won eight of the last nine NCAA championships. Simplistically speaking, one might even argue that in 2009, the one gap in what should have been a 9-Peat dynasty, an All-Filipino San Sebastian squad beat a San Beda squad that even featured an American import in 6'8" Sudan Daniel, thus ending any talk that all it takes is a good import to guarantee a championship. The NCAA beat the UAAP to the punch in imposing its own import ban.

That is why this total ban on imports makes no sense to me. It is as if college leagues are afraid of their own shadow.

I submit that this will not really level the playing field all that much. Think back to say 1993, when Santo Tomas won the first of what would be a 4-Peat. There was a gap in 1997 when FEU won the title behind Onak Magtulis and Robin Mendoza. Then Lasalle had its own 4-Peat starting in 1998. The Ateneo was the champion in another gap year, 2002. Then FEU won a technical grand slam from 2003 to 2005 in the Arwind Santos years. Lasalle won the 2004 title on the court but the league stripped them of that title for fielding ineligible local players, not imports. Then UST won in 2006, followed by Lasalle in 2007. Starting 2008 the Ateneo went on its own 5-Peat title reign. Lasalle reclaimed the title in 2013, before NU broke their 60-year title drought this year.

So in a 21-season stretch from 1993 to 2013 only four schools won the UAAP title: the Ateneo, Lasalle, UST and FEU. At this point I am too lazy to count, but two of those same four schools have also disputed most of those titles, interrupted here and there by Adamson in the Kenneth Duremdes era (versus UST), and by UE in the Elmer Espiritu-Pari Llagas years (versus the Ateneo). Also, either Ateneo or Lasalle was in each of those Finals. NU may have won the title this year, but their Finals foe was FEU, and FEU was in three of the last five Finals. Ateneo won the last of its five straight titles in 2012 against a UST side that has a good import in Karim Abdul. Granted the Ateneo had 7-foot mismatch Greg Slaughter, but still, if we're talking about imports as the advantage, right?

I don't know about the rest of you, but that hardly seems like a level playing field, and this was all before the league started picking on the imports.

So tell me again, exactly how big an advantage is having an import anyway? Or if I may be more direct, does having an import guarantee a championship?

This is where recruitment now comes in.

If teams know how to recruit good talent, whether local or foreign, they will always be contenders.

I go back to a conversation I once had with Norman Black. This was back in 2011, with Ateneo having just won the fourth of its 5-Peat titles against Adbul and UST. I asked Black why the Ateneo didn't seem all that interested in getting its own import. He simply answered, "Let's face it, except for Karim there really aren't any good Africans playing in the UAAP. Frank (Golla) and Justin (Chua) can just put a body on them and we'll be fine." Granted again that this was pre-Mammie and pre-Aroga. Plus Slaughter was still wearing the Marian blue and white.

In a future without imports there should of course be all the space and opportunity for local players to see action in the UAAP and NCAA. Does this automatically translate into more opportunities to produce quality players coming out of the two big college leagues? Not by a longshot.

In both the UAAP and NCAA teams can line up a maximum of 16 players every season. So that's 18 teams times 16 players, assuming teams max their rosters. Lasalle for instance has chosen not to max out its roster the past two UAAP seasons. That's a maximum of 288 roster spots in any given season.

The PBA currently has 12 teams, thanks to two expansion teams and one franchise buying out the old Air 21 franchise. To my recollection PBA teams are allowed to line up 15 players on its regular roster, with two or three guys on reserve or on injured reserve. So that's a maximum of 180 regular roster spots in a given PBA season. Let us assume that only players taken in the first two rounds of drafting have a better than even chance of making the regular roster of a given PBA team. With 12 teams that means only 24 guys have a realistic chance at making a regular PBA roster.

Now let's say 10% of the 288 college players join the PBA draft. Let us round that number up to 30 guys. Then let's add in other amateurs who were not on a UAAP or NCAA roster in the season directly preceding a given draft, including D League guys, and other Filipino-foreigners qualified for the draft. Let's round out that number to a grand total of 50. So 50 guys are fighting for 24 regular job openings.

We are not even talking yet about sticking in the PBA.

For every Arwind Santos and James Yap we have much more roster fodder on college teams. It could reasonably be concluded that college teams in short do not really offer all that much development. I'm sure Santos and Yap will say the right things about how they are grateful to Coaches Koy Banal and Boycie Zamar, but let's get real here. These two were inherently elite players right off the bat, and there really wasn't much left for their coaches to develop. In fact their weaknesses since colleg are still the same. Santos has average handles at best, Yap can't really defend all that well.

So exactly what kind of local player development are we talking about again if we get rid of the imports in college?

In the end it is clear that a total ban on college imports just does not make much sense.
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Philippine Basketball

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