Recruitment wars


IN-SEASON, the basketball battlefield in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) booms with heavy artillery.

Fighting is red-hot and war rages on.

All eight teams unleash their weapons of choice: three-point bazookas, defensive armies forming impenetrable walls, snipers from every corner of the arena, kamikaze excursions into the paint that allow stabs under the basket. The coaching staff meanwhile takes care of reconnaissance and psy-war ops.

After a champion is hailed, the post season begins and the heat and frenzy is  replaced by a deceiving calm. Accent on deceiving because underneath the surface, it is anything but calm.

A different kind of action resumes, for some teams, right the very next day. It’s never too early to set the stage for the next season. It’s shopping time.

Enter another kind of war. Recruitment. This escalates, goes into full swing and becomes the focus of team management and the coaching staff. Right now the trend seems to be looking overseas for Fil-foreign players who cannot just boost the roster but also change the game.

Think of how it was when Ben Mbala suited up for La Salle. Or how Ange Kouame got Ateneo a deed for the shaded lane. Looking at how these and other foreign-trained players performed in the leagues and teams that they beefed up (think Sam Ekwe for San Beda or Malick Diouf for the University of the Philippines), it’s no wonder getting foreign DNA—purely foreign or half Filipino—is the way to go for teams with dreams these days.

Take a look. Over the weekend fireworks totally unrelated to the celebration of Chinese New Year went off in sports news. The declaration of sought-after young player, Francis (LeBron) Lopez that he was committing to the other side of Katipunan after having been associated all along with the Ateneo Blue Eagles was a major “pasabog” that went viral just seconds after the announcement took place.

What a major commotion that was. That The Decision was announced on the day of the Ateneo championship bonfire added fuel to the fire of sass and lip that erupted over the news.

The point is, the matter of foreign assets—or just accumulated assets, period—is so important these days. In the post- and pre-seasons, the big news always is who gets whom, who goes where and how it all adds up.

Prior to the Lebron Lopez news, the biggie was De La Salle University’s bomb. The Archers unveiled a new coach—proven winner Topex Robinson—and added ammo to its line-up:  6-foot shooting guard Geremy Robinson from Hawaii, US NCAA standout DJ Mitchell, another Phillips Brother (Isaiah) to make a Green trio and solid local high school recruits Jonnel Policarpio, Mur Alao, EJ Gollena and Nathan Montecillo.

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers also got into the act by introducing their recruit, 19-year old, 6-foot-7 center Hinda Mady Tourkana from Mali who has an incredible 7-foot wing span. How exciting paint action for UST will be come September!

The Blue Eagles are already solid as solid can be. But the addition of Gilas Under-18 guards Mason Amos and Kyle Gamber, plus Westmont College star guard Jared Brown makes Ateneo beefier than ever. With all three eligible to play in Season 86, the mighty Eagles are still the mountain to climb in the new season of the UAAP.

UP, a new player in the “subterranean” game of recruitment, reportedly still has some aces up its sleeves. The blues brought about by the announcement of Carl Tamayo’s departure for the Japanese B.League two weeks ago has been replaced by an electric current of excitement and anticipation. Who else besides Lebron Lopez will be added to the roster? What more “pasabog” is in store?

This post-season and the upcoming pre-season in the third quarter of 2023 will be true spectacle for avid fans of collegiate basketball. More talents—homegrown or foreign-bred—will parade, be hyped up and capture our collective attention.

Remember, however, that as long as the prize recruits are not yet enrolled in the schools they committed to, are not yet cleared by the eligibility committee or are not yet officially listed in the Season 86 roster, everything is still a dream. Anything can still happen. Because this is war.

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