MANILA, Philippines -- The UAAP is not yet sounding the alarm after the collegiate league lost two star players to the Korean Basketball League (KBL) after its 84th season.
Ateneo de Manila University's SJ Belangel opened the doors for Filipinos to play in the KBL, signing with the Daegu KOGAS Pegasus earlier this month. In the process, he will forego two more years of eligibility with the Blue Eagles.
RJ Abarrientos, meanwhile, essentially became a one-and-done player with Far Eastern University as he has signed with the Ulsan Hyundai Mobis.
"In some ways, it might be [a concern]," UAAP executive director Atty. Rebo Saguisag said of the players' departure. "We have the pros, Japan, and now Korea."
Saguisag was referring to the PBA, which remains the top destination of UAAP players after they leave the league, as well as Japan's B.League which has emerged as another option for local players.
"It might be a concern," the league official said, "But whether or not we should address it is another thing. Sabi ko nga, it's a decision that these student-athletes have to make, with the guidance of their parents."
Saguisag admitted that the UAAP member-schools were concerned about a potential exodus of players during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had forced them to cancel the entirety of the league's 83rd season.
Notably, players like Dwight Ramos of Ateneo and Javi Gomez de Liano and Kobe Paras of the University of the Philippines opted not to suit up for their respective schools and instead pursue their professional careers in Japan.
"That was during the height of the pandemic, because of the fear of uncertainty," Saguisag explained. "That's why they wanted to resume at the soonest possible time, or at least a certainty when Season 84 would start."
As it stands, UAAP member-schools are not yet raising an issue over what Saguisag calls a "mini exodus" of players to South Korea. He does acknowledge that losing a player like Belangel was no small matter, as he considered the guard a candidate for Finals MVP had Ateneo won the Season 84 crown.
"Sayang lang if mapa-pluck sila at a very young age, kasi iba rin 'yung makapagtapos ka," said Saguisag. "Again, 'yan naman ay also a factor. But 'di rin naman natin mapipigil 'yan."
"Iba na ang mundo ngayon. If it's really good for their future, it's a decision that they have to make. Personal decision din 'yan. I would say, kung talagang ikabubuti nila, we'll be happy for them na rin," he said.
Saguisag also expressed his confidence that even as players leave, there would be others who will emerge as stars in their wake.
"I said that I am confident naman that there is always talent there, waiting to be discovered," he said. "Challenge na lang din sa atin 'yan, to develop, discover, and hone new talent."