FOREIGN student-athletes are usually hot commodities, sought after by schools that are seeking to shore up the frontlines of their basketball teams.
The Lyceum Pirates’ Aziz Mbomiko is the rare exception.
Before he was accepted aboard the Pirates’ ship, the Cameroonian journeyman was snubbed by schools he tried out for: Ateneo, University of Santo Tomas, La Salle, Mapua, and Letran, to name a few. The first four schools felt Mbomiko lacked the height, while Letran has a no-import policy.
“It was always the same story: the size," the 6-foot-3 Mbomiko told Spin.ph. "They were looking for guys taller than me."
He first came to the Philippines in 2009 with third-degree cousin Karim Abdul. Together, they tried out for spots in the UST lineup, but the Tigers, according to Mbomiko, were “more interested” in Abdul because, you guessed it, of his height.
One school did take him: AMA University, where he played for two years in the Naascu (National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges, and Universities). But Mbomiko decided to leave, saying he disagreed with the way the school’s management ran the team.
After leaving AMA in 2011, he found Lyceum later in the same year and started to go into two-year residency.
“I just didn’t give up because I know exactly what I’m capable of,” Mbomiko said.
According to Lyceum coach Bonnie Tan, the Pirates found something in Mbomiko that the other teams chose to ignore.
“Talagang walang taker yan, kasi nga maliit siya, undersized, but we saw from him the hard work,” Tan said. “Match na match siya sa amin kasi ang Lyceum puro maliit who can play multiple positions.”
Finally eligible this year, the 22-year-old Mbomiko has been a key figure in the Pirates’ rise to respectability in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as the team’s defensive anchor.
Although a natural point guard, Mbomiko has been forced to play either forward spot for the Pirates and guard bigger opponents.
So far, Mbomiko has not disappointed. As a 'point forward,' he has averaged 11 points, a team-leading 6.4 rebounds, and a team-high tying 3.1 assists in 27.6 minutes in the Pirates’ seven games.
While he’s doing well on the court, Mbomiko is also focused on his studies, which was the primary reason why he went to the Philippines in the first place.
“I could’ve stayed at home, but the school tuition is more expensive than here. And here I found the opportunity to study just by playing basketball, so we came here and took our chance.”
The management accounting student hopes to find a job as an accountant in the country or continue to play hoops when he graduates.
For now, Mbomiko hopes to continue defying expectations.
“I just want to disprove the wrong thinking about the height: it doesn’t matter. It’s the way you play, the way you perform that counts.”