April 25, 2019
The incoming 95th season of the NCAA will be the last one to allow imports. By 2020, only players with Filipino blood or have a Filipino parent will be allowed.
This is a bold move, as the NCAA previously allowed two imports. There are strong arguments for this, specifically Season 92’s mythical five which had Jio Jalalon as the only Filipino (and guard) in the roster.
There were already debates sparked by this move, but it is final and there are the schools have no other recourse but to comply. Looking ahead, how will this affect the NCAA, the college basketball scene and Philippine basketball in general?
‘Level the playing field’
The motivation behind the ban was to “level the playing field.” In season 94, four schools decided not to field imports: Letran, San Sebastian, Mapua and JRU. Only Letran made the Final Four.
Interestingly, Letran won the championship in 2005, right before San Beda first paraded the 6’9 Sam Ekwe, which paved the way for their dominance, winning 10 out of the next 12 championships. The chain was only broken by the San Sebastian Stags which featured PBA stars Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang, and the Letran Knights in 2015 with Kevin Racal, Mark Cruz, Rey Nambatac among others.
San Beda’s dominance had enticed other schools to follow suit, not just in the NCAA but also in the UAAP. Other teams felt the need to join the arms race in order to compete. Still, some teams decided not to follow suit even if it placed them at a disadvantageous situation.
The individual awards were dominated by the imports and this prompted the clamor to revisit the ban, which was originally proposed for Season 90.
Effects on the League and college basketball
The NCAA will become a fast-paced league and most coaches would take the “small ball” playbook. There are a handful of players around 6’4 and they will have to man the slot, unless the next anticipated effect happens.
Most of the quality big men are recruited to the UAAP, but there could be an exodus to the NCAA because of this rule. It may have already started. Jeremiah Pangalangan, a 17-year old 6’9 prospect has completed residency at the College of St. Benilde. He was already with DLSU since 2016 but failed to crack the loaded frontline rotation.
More sidelined big men could follow suit as they would rather play for a different school than be kept in the freezer. In the sense of granting more opportunities for Filipino players, the NCAA rule may have fulfilled its purpose.
PBA and international basketball
One of the players who voiced his opposition to the rule to ban imports is Raymond Almazan. He played center for Letran, and now with Rain or Shine in the PBA. He is also a member of Gilas Pilipinas. He admits that playing against the hulking African imports has made him stronger.
If the imports were not around, Almazan could have had a more dominant college career. However, he probably would not have developed the skills that got him the nod for the national team.
This is the root of criticism against the ban. We would have more undersized centers clogging the paint, but they would not be big enough to be centers in international play, or even the PBA.
In contrast, Isaac Go of Ateneo has adjusted his game and developed a soft, shooting touch. He is 6’8, a center even for the PBA, but he learned to play stretch four with seven foot import Ange Kouame.
Go would follow the footsteps of players like Troy Rosario, who is a staple of the national team because of his height and skills. Rosario also played alongside dominant imports and developed an outside shot. Without the imports, players as tall as Go and Rosario would revert to playing the post against smaller players again.
The ban on imports will happen and it can cause repercussions throughout the basketball scene. The debate between protectionism vs. competitive development will continue throughout the NCAA and beyond.
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