The 21st century witnessed the growth of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) from being one of the premier collegiate basketball leagues into one of the most talked-about events in the Philippines.
This current period of success became an avenue for varsity players to turn from heroes into legends, many of whom are still being remembered even after their campus careers have ended.
Arwind Santos (FEU Tamaraws)
Santos could be arguably the greatest UAAP player in the first 17 years of the 21st century after showcasing his versatility and leadership during a great period for the Tamaraws, who captured the 2003 and 2005 titles (the school was later awarded the 2004 crown after La Salle's player eligibility scandal). He matched his amateur success in the PBA, becoming a league MVP in 2013 and currently helping the San Miguel Beermen's quest to win a rare Grand Slam.
Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. (NU Bulldogs)
Parks skipped a chance to play in the US NCAA for Georgia Tech not only to be at the side of his father—the late seven-time PBA Best Import Bobby Parks—but to turn the Bulldogs from a traditional cellar-dweller into a championship contender. He won back-to-back MVP awards in 2011 and 2012, while also leading NU to consecutive Final Four in 2012 and 2013, the title eluding him both times.
Enrico Villanueva (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Some would argue that Villanueva was the best player during Ateneo's great run in early-part of the 2000s, winning the MVP in the Blue Eagles' memorable title in 2002 with his ability to dominate the paint; he could have won two or three if not for bad breaks that went his way. Villanueva, currently a seldom-used veteran at NLEX, gained immediate success upon turning pro in 2003 under the Red Bull teams of coach Yeng Guiao.
James Yap (UE Red Warriors)
The greatness of James Yap was first witnessed in the collegiate ranks as his ability to score at will made the Red Warriors a title contender with Final Four appearances in 2002 and 2003, winning the MVP plum in the latter year. He became a more celebrated player in the PBA, becoming a two-time MVP while giving the Purefoods franchise numerous championships.
Jeron Teng (De La Salle Green Archers)
The son of former PBA bruiser Alvin Teng brought back La Salle's winning ways this decade by leading the Green Archers to championships in 2013 and 2016 while emerging as one of the UAAP's best players despite failing to win a season MVP. But Teng is perhaps gratified with the accomplishments he brought in Taft, sometimes he hopes to bring in the big league next season.
Jervy Cruz (UST Growling Tigers)
Cruz became the cornerstone of UST's Cinderella title quest in 2006, transforming from a unheralded forward who joined the team as a walk-in into one of the UAAP's best players under the leadership of coach Pido Jarencio. He won the MVP in 2007 and almost made it two in a row the following year before losing to Ateneo's Rabeh Al-Hussaini. Cruz has been in the PBA for nine years, currently a reliable veteran of coach Tim Cone at Barangay Ginebra.
JVee Casio (De La Salle Green Archers)
The current Alaska guard was responsible for bringing La Salle back on top following a turbulent period that saw the Green Archers losing the 2004 title followed by a 2006 suspension because of a player eligibility scandal. After his game-winning three against the FEU Tamaraws in that aforementioned 2004 finals was erased from the record books, Casio and the Green Archers would have their redemption in 2007 by stunning the 14-0 UE Red Warriors in the finals.
Kiefer Ravena (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Ravena lived up to his "The Phenom" tag as he helped the Blue Eagles achieve a phenomenal five-peat run with championships in his first two seasons under Norman Black. He was later rewarded with two MVPs in 2014 and 2015 when he tried in vain to bring Ateneo back to the winner's podium.
LA Tenorio (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Before he became the chief playmaker of Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and multi-time member of Gilas Pilipinas, Tenorio was a cat-quick hero in the Loyola campus for five seasons, emerging as one of the UAAP's best in the first half of the 2000s that saw him win a championship in 2002.
Mac Belo (FEU Tamaraws)
The North Cotabato native rose from humble beginnings to become one of the best players FEU has ever produced. He reluctantly stepped out of the shadows of the likes of Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia to become the Tamaraws' go-to-player, resulting in a 2015 championship that ended a 10-year title drought. His stardom paved the way for a stint with the Gilas Cadets and a PBA career that started this season with Blackwater.
Mac Cardona (De La Salle Green Archers)
The bald-headed forward was a brash member of several La Salle championship teams, leaving a lasting impression with his unorthodox one-handed shot that gave him the nickname “Captain Hook” and verbal exchanges with Ateneo's Wesley Gonzales that made him legendary. Cardona, who achieved solid success since joining the PBA in 2005, is slowly trying to get a roster spot at GlobalPort after off-court problems led to a failed suicide attempt in 2016.
Mike Cortez (De La Salle Green Archers)
“The Cool Cat” was emulated for his calming presence and ability to take over during his three-year stint in Taft. He was a key contributor in the latter part of La Salle's four-time championship squad and came close to extending the Green Archers' reign in 2002 when he became the face of the team, only to fall short against the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals. He is currently in his 14th season in the PBA for GlobalPort.
Paul Lee (UE Red Warriors)
Lee broke out of his inconsistent first two seasons in Recto to become one of UAAP's most lethal scorers. He flourished under coach Lawrence Chongson starting in 2009 when UE nearly ended its long title drought against mighty Ateneo in the finals, and almost won the MVP award the following season. Both achievements helped the now-Star Hotshots guard become one of the PBA's best players today.
Renren Ritualo (De La Salle Green Archers)
Ritualo earned legendary status in the eyes of many Lasallians after leading the Green Archers to a four-peat from 1998 to 2001 under coach Franz Pumaren, capping off that rare achievement with clutch baskets against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws and the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the first two finals of the new millennium. He translated that success into a solid 13-year PBA career for five different teams.
Rabeh Al-Hussaini (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Al-Hussaini became a late bloomer during his UAAP career, emerging as a star in the first two years of the Blue Eagles' five-peat run. He won the league's MVP award in 2008, then won the best player of the Finals the following year in a period where Ateneo went 32-3. The 6-foot-7 center's career in the PBA hasn't been smooth, but he is becoming a dependable role player now for Guiao at NLEX.
Rich Alvarez (Ateneo Blue Eagles)
Alvarez won back-to-back UAAP Most Valuable Players in 2000 and 2001 during a period that saw the Blue Eagles regain their status as one of the league's premier teams. He was an integral part of Ateneo's 2002 championship run, alongside Enrico Villanueva, LA Tenorio, Wesley Gonzales and Larry Fonacier by denying archrival La Salle a fifth straight crown. Alvarez was PBA Rookie of the Year in 2004 but never reached star status during a 12-season pro campaign.
Terrence Romeo (FEU Tamaraws)
Romeo lived up to the hype that surrounded him following an 83-point performance in a UAAP high school game in 2009 to become one of the league's best scorers during his time at Morayta. He was one of the crowd darlings with his dazzling skills and scoring abilities, ending his FEU career with an MVP plum in 2013. He is now a more popular figure in the PBA with GlobalPort and in his last three stints with Gilas Pilipinas in the international scene.
Honorable mentions: Larry Fonacier, Joseph Yeo, RR Garcia, Chris Tiu, Greg Slaughter
Do you agree with our list? While arguing in the comments section, keep in mind that the men's basketball tournament of UAAP Season 80 gets underway on September 9 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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