MANILA, Philippines – The NCAA, the oldest collegiate league in the Philippines, has recently come under fire for its decision to bar foreign student-athletes from playing in two years' time.
The league confirmed last week that by the year 2020, foreign student-athletes – commonly referred to as "imports" – will no longer be allowed to play, regardless of their eligibility status. Foreign players can only suit up until Season 95.
The decision has been widely debated, with former University of Perpetual Help big man Bright Akhuetie among those who questioned the NCAA's move. "How do you expect to make your bigs better and prepare them to standout against the world?" he tweeted recently.
Just on Monday, San Miguel Beer point guard Chris Ross lashed out at what he felt was an unfair rule. "I guess the President of the United States made discrimination and racism okay everywhere," tweeted Ross while quoting an article referring to the new NCAA standard.
Add former Colegio de San Juan de Letran big man and current Rain or Shine star Raymond Almazan to the list of personalities who do not exactly support the move.
Almazan was the NCAA's Most Valuable Player in Season 89, and helped Letran advance to the finals in both Seasons 88 and 89. They were beaten in both instances by a San Beda University squad that was anchored by Nigerian center Ola Adeogun.
Yet Almazan holds no ill will towards Adeogun, nor any of the foreign big men he battled with in college. Instead, he credits them for helping him develop into the player that he is now.
"Malaking bagay na nakalaro (ako) ng imports like sila Happi," said Almazan, referring to Cedric Happi Boube of Emilio Aguinaldo College.
He pointed out that playing against "imports" in college greatly prepared him for the PBA, where he has to battle foreign reinforcements in two out of three conferences.
"Katulad ngayon sa PBA, may dalawang conference na may bantayan ka na import, so 'di ka na maninibago," said Almazan. "Para sa akin, wala naman akong nakikitang mali doon."
Perhaps the biggest issue held against foreign student-athletes – particularly the big men – is that they take away roster spots that can go to Filipino players.
Almazan played for a school that has never featured an "import," but even he still had to wait his turn before getting his minutes despite not competing for time with a foreign player.
"May mga nagsasabi na mga tao na nasasabi mo lang na gusto mo, kasi nagagamit ka," said Almazan. "Hindi eh – nabangko din ako ng two years."
"Naghintay ako ng chance ko," he stressed. "Kaya hindi mo pwedeng sabihin na nasasapawan 'yung talent mo."
Moreover, Almazan believes that this is a dangerous mindset for Filipino players – to think that "imports" are stealing roster spots that are rightfully theirs.
"Kailangan, trabahuhin mo," said Almazan, who also earned a pair of Defensive Player of the Year trophies during his stint with the Knights.
"Siyempre, 'pag alam mong may import 'yung kalaban, ibigay mo 'yung best mo, na iba 'yung Pinoy maglaro," he added.
Almazan does have one suggestion, however.
"Sa akin lang siguro, 'yung height limit lang siguro," he said. "'Yun lang para sa mga imports."
Several imports – including San Beda's Donald Tankoua – can still play in the NCAA Season 94 tournament when it opens on July 7. Season 95, however, marks the last year that foreign players can suit up in the league.
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