Foreign players are polarizing figures in both the UAAP and NCAA, or, even in other leaagues only a handful have heard of. Some say they have been beneficial to the progress of Philippine basketball. Others argue they've hindered the development of homegrown players who have dreams of making it big.
Regardless, they have made a tremendous impact in the way people view collegiate basketball as a whole. While many imports have come and go, only a select crop left an indelible mark.
The American center is the first major foreigner to star in the collegiate ranks, helping the Far Eastern University Tamaraws complete a rare three-peat from 1979 to 1981. Williams, who took up medicine in the Morayta campus, won the league's Most Valuable Player in his final season that saw the Tamaraws complete a trifecta with a second consecutive 12-game sweep. Former teammate Glenn Capacio described Williams as a player who made up for his lack of talent with his athleticism and hustle.
Diehard fans who followed the UAAP in the early-2000s will surely remember this dashing Brazilian forward who suited up for the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons. Listed as 6-foot-3, Bornancin was one of the top players for an otherwise lowly State U squad from that era that also included the likes of Mike Bravo, Xavi Nunag and Kenneth Robin, earning the adulation of supporters with his all-out effort on both ends.
The 6-foot-6 Nigerian will forever be remembered as the one who changed the landscape of college basketball. Making his NCAA debut in 2006, Ekwe immediately left a mark by winning the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards while ending the San Beda Red Lions' 28-year title drought, a run that led to the start of the Mendiola campus' dominance in the country's oldest collegiate league. Ekwe would win two more championships and another MVP plum.
Though born in Kansas City to American missionaries, the 6-foot-1 Long spent most of his life in the country, playing baseball and basketball at FAITH Academy before becoming an integral part of Ateneo's title victories from 2008 to 2011 with his trademark defense and timely offense.
The 6-foot Cameroonian was one of the first wave of African players tapped by NCAA schools outside of San Beda, providing the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers instant offense and key defensive efforts from 2008 to 2010, nearly upsetting the Ekwe-led Red Lions in the finals on his first year with the team also powered by Marvin Hayes, James Sena, John Wilson, the late-Jayson Nocom and Mark Cagoco.
Straight out of Compton, California, Daniel filled the void left by Ekwe with ease, continuing dominance San Beda still enjoys to this day. After failing to lead the Red Lions to the 2009 NCAA championship, the 6-foot-6 American came back with a vengeance, winning MVP honors and helping the Mendiola dribblers recapture the crown via a 16-game sweep. A knee injury abruptly ended his collegiate career in 2011, but not after seeing San Beda clinch another title.
Also a Cameroonian who stands at 6-foot-7, Mbe began his collegiate career with Emilio Aguinaldo College during its pre-NCAA days in 2008. He reportedly made brief stops for two universities before making his UAAP debut for the National University Bulldogs in 2010. Along with Bobby Ray Parks Jr., Mbe helped the Bulldogs become a contender when they made the Final Four in 2012 and 2013.
Abdul played five UAAP seasons for the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers (even moonlighting as a goalkeeper for Dolphins United in the now-defunct United Football League second division), transforming the Espana-based team into a winner. The 6-foot-6 Cameroonian was a key presence in the middle for the Pido Jarencio-coached UST squads that reached the UAAP finals in 2012 and 2013 while winning three Mythical Five awards.
The third foreign-born player tapped by San Beda capped off the Red Lions' five-peat by winning the last three from 2012 to 2014, taking off where Ekwe and Daniel left from by becoming a major presence in the paint. The 6-foot-8 Nigerian was a consistent double-double performer as he combined with Baser Amer and Art de la Cruz to keep San Beda's winning tradition intact.
The 6-foot-7 Cameroonian became the first foreign player since Williams to win the UAAP MVP plum last year when La Salle regained its status as champion. Mbala's road to the top of the country's premier collegiate league began in 2012 when he led Cebu's Southwestern University to the CESAFI crown and subsequently caught the attention of the Green Archers when he erupted for 41 points against San Beda in a Champions League game in Manila. A three-year residency period set the stage for him taking the UAAP by storm.
Two years before his compatriot Mbala took the Green Archers to the Promised Land, Aroga played a major role in ending the longest drought in UAAP history when the National University Bulldogs won the 2014 championship in storybook fashion. The 6-foot-7 was named Finals Most Valuable Player that season when he saved for best his last in the deciding third game against the Tamaraws. Aroga played two more UAAP season for NU.
He may be unknown to some hoop junkies but the 6-foot-7 center from Congo is a main reason why Centro Escolar University has flourished outside of the UAAP and NCAA. Ebondo powered the Scorpions to three straight NAASCU championships from 2013 to 2015 and the inaugural Universities and Colleges Basketball League title in 2016. Ebondo is even more impressive in the PBA D-League, producing double-double numbers for CafeFrance and CEU against older and physical local players.
Here's another foreign player who made an impact outside of the major leagues. The 6-foot-7 Olago, also of Cameroon, starred in the historic 2015 CESAFI title run of the University of San Carlos Warriors – a feat that ended the school's 57-year title drought in the Cebu collegiate scene. Olago, who won the league MVP that year, brought his impressive resume in the Champions League against some of Manila's top schools, helping the Warriors secure a semifinals berth. He has since left USC and was last heard playing for a commercial league in Manila.
Cameroonian imports have been the norm in both the UAAP and NCAA, and Sarr has proven to be one of the bests. Standing at 6-foot-6, Sarr debuted in 2015, starring for an Adamson Falcons team that underachieved. His presence became even more important the following year when the San Marcelino quintet made the Final Four under veteran coach Franz Pumaren while finishing second to Mbala in the UAAP MVP race. Sarr is entering his third season with the Falcons.
Akhuetie was one of four African players the University of Perpetual Help Altas recruited since the start of the current decade (the others were Femi Babayemi, Nosa Omorogbe and Prince Eze), and he could very well be the school's best. The Nigerian led the Las Pinas school to NCAA Final Four appearances in 2015 and 2016 with his dominating presence and monster numbers. Akhuetie is currently serving residency at University of the Philippines after a stunning transfer earlier this year. Barring any issues, Akhuetie will make his UAAP debut in 2018.
The 6-foot-9 Nigerian is the NCAA's two-time reigning Most Valuable Player after regular 20-20 performances made the Atoy Co-coached Mapua Cardinals regular Final Four entrants. Oraeme's impressive showing apparently made him a potential recruit among big-funded teams, much to Co's frustration. Oraeme skipped playing for the Cardinals this season, his future still up in the air.