MANILA, Philippines -- Officials of the UAAP believe that their league is well-equipped to deal with the departure of players to professional leagues -- both local and overseas -- even as the debate on "poaching" rages on.
Filipino basketball players have taken their acts to overseas leagues in recent years, with three-time UAAP Finals MVP Thirdy Ravena kicking the door wide open in 2020 when he signed for the San-En NeoPhoenix in Japan's B.League.
Several players have since followed, and this year the Korean Basketball League (KBL) became a new destination for Filipinos. Two UAAP stars opted to leave school early to sign with KBL clubs -- SJ Belangel of the Ateneo de Manila University, and RJ Abarrientos of Far Eastern University.
For UAAP executive director Atty. Rebo Saguisag, the issue is not new: the league has traditionally lost its stars to the PBA at the end of their college eligibility.
"Sometimes, [they] transfer to other collegiate leagues," he pointed out during an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday morning. "Ngayon, nadagdagan lang. So this is nothing really new to us."
While stressing that he has only had informal and unofficial talks with the UAAP member-schools, Saguisag said the departure of players for overseas leagues does not clash with the ideals of the league.
"It's just in line with our goal to give these students, student-athletes, the best position to succeed and to give their families an opportunity for a better life. So 'yan lang naman, from our perspective," said Saguisag.
The PBA has raised the alarm over the exodus of players, especially with professional stars leaving the local league to play abroad. In the past couple of years, the PBA has lost Kiefer Ravena, Greg Slaughter, Ray Parks, and Matthew Wright to the B.League. Players like Thirdy Ravena and Justine Baltazar were tipped to be top draft picks but decided to play in Japan instead.
For the UAAP, however, the situation is not yet a source of grave concern, even if a couple of stars have now left the league ahead of time.
"Again, this problem not being new to us, hindi naman kami nauubusan ng talent as far as we're concerned," Saguisag explained. "In fact, it only gives other students an opportunity to shine."
"Right now naman, and based on Season 84, like I said, it's nothing new, and UAAP is still alive and kicking. So, it may be a concern, quote-unquote, but right now we're just happy where the student-athletes are going," he added.
UAAP president Fr. Aldrin Suan of host school Adamson University backed up Saguisag's sentiments, while also pointing out that the country will not run out of basketball players anytime soon even if some are taking their talents abroad.
"We have to take note na the professional opportunity of basketball in the Philippines is very limited. And we have an overwhelming supply of basketball players," said Suan. "Sabi nga, we're a basketball country."
"Now, kung we have an over-supply of skills, and very limited ang professional venue for you to express your skills, why curtail that opportunity for other people?" he added. "Why not always grab the opportunity?"
"And this offer from outside the country is an opportunity. Let us grab it."
The issue of player "poaching" has become the hot-button topic among basketball fans in recent days, with officials of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) even bringing up the matter during an appearance in front of the Senate Committee on Sports.
In a recent visit to B.League officials in Tokyo, PBA executives reportedly claimed that the exodus of Filipino players has had a negative impact not just on the local professional league, but even on the national team.