An Ode to NCAA Imports: The End of an Era
A few years ago, NCAA has finally decided to shut its doors to foreign imports this coming Season 96. Prompted by the need to level the playing field, these imports definitely dominated the court for years. They have halted the likes of Raymond Almazan of the Letran Knights and San Sebastian’s Ian Sangalang, and Calvin Abueva to rain havoc during their collegiate careers.
And while it may seem borderline discriminatory for some, the NCAA management committee has nothing, but the best interest for the league and its athletes. Banning foreign players will give more opportunities to homegrown Filipino athletes to showcase their craft in the collegiate scene.
Despite contradicting opinions regarding the matter, there is no denying that these big men have helped elevate the level of play in the Philippine basketball. And as we bid them farewell, let us look back at the foreign athletes that made an impact in NCAA history.
How can one make a list of top foreign imports without having Sam Ekwe at number one?
This 6-foot-8 Nigerian started the revolution in the collegiate basketball scene. He was one of the first imports to enter NCAA with others soon following suit. His arrival at San Beda University in 2006 created an uproar as he led the Red Lions to their first championship since 1978.
Aside from being a champion in his rookie year, he was also crowned as the season MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Coming from a 28-year championship drought, San Beda has Ekwe to thank for. Since his arrival, the Mendiola-based squad had created a dynasty with 11 titles—three of which is led by Ekwe.
It is beyond doubt that Sudan Daniel had big shoes to fill as his predecessor, Sam Ekwe, had set the bar high for imports like him.
After failing to win the four-peat championship in his rookie year to the Calvin Abueva-powered San Sebastian Stags, Daniel bounced back with authority the following season as the Red Lions exacted a vengeful 16-0 sweep in the elimination before retrieving the throne from the reigning champions.
Sudan earned the title ‘Superman’ in that golden season as he claimed the Season’s MVP and Finals MVP. But as fate would have it, this American powerhouse did not get to end his collegiate stint on a high note as he fell to an injury that ended his basketball career.
Despite the sad ending, Sudan Daniel had already engraved his name as one of the greatest imports in NCAA history and will always have a place in the heart of every basketball NCAA-enthusiasts.
In 2015, another Nigerian native took the league by storm as Allwell Oraeme was crowned as NCAA rookie-MVP. Oraeme was the third person to accomplish the rare feat after Gabby Espinas and Sam Ekwe.
Oraeme has the making of a superstar despite only playing for two years for the Mapua Cardinals—the 6-feet-9 Nigerian made a lasting mark in the perennial league with two MVP awards in those two years.
He was part of Season 92 Mythical Five that sparked the debate of whether foreign reinforcements should be banned. With Jiovani Jalalon of Arellano University being the lone Filipino to make the selection, while the rest are Nigerian Bright Akhuetie, Cameroonian Hamadou Laminou, and another Cameroonian in Donald Tankoua.
He might not have a long history with the NCAA but with the combination of height, athleticism, and skills Oraeme earned his spot to become one of the best imports to have graced the league.
It is true that for years, numerous foreign athletes have played their collegiate careers in the Philippines. However, one of the most popular would be Bright Akhuetie.
Before joining the Fighting Maroons in the UAAP, Akhuetie was the big man of the Altas. It’s such a shame that only a few people will remember his time in the NCAA where he dominated his opponents with his sheer athleticism and raw power.
The Altas never got the chance to play in the Final Four despite having the likes of Akhuetie, Eze, and Ginebra star Scottie Thompson. Nevertheless, Akhuetie—being the talent that he is— will surely make any team a force to be reckoned with.
With his offense and defense, Akhuetie can overwhelm any opponents making him one of the most dominant foreign athletes to play in the country.
Mike Harry Nzeusseu
Before the ‘Baby Beast’ entered Lyceum, the Pirates had Mike Harry Nzeusseu and while his name was overshadowed by CJ Perez, this American reinforcement contributed heavily for LPU. With Perez serving his residency, Nzeusseu was at the forefront of the scoring for the team.
However, with San Beda being a constant torn in their back, the Pirates never found a solution to the Red Lions’ onslaught.
Even with their historic season sweep in Season 93 and a back-to-back finals appearance the following season, Nzeusseu’s exit in the NCAA was not as explosive as one would think.
These names are only the tip of the iceberg compare to all the imports who made a mark in the hearts of every fan. And as NCAA closes this chapter—let us give them a final applause.