THE NCAA Season 95 is finally here and the biggest elephant in the room is the final year of eligibility of all foreign student-athletes in the country's oldest collegiate league.
Reception to the decision is mix, with some fans agreeing that the ban on foreign players in the league is warranted. Others feel the decision leaves a bad taste in the mouth, if not borderline discriminatory.
Regardless of how you feel about the issue, there is no doubt the foreign reinforcements added a new dimension to the league, brought the best out of the local players, and gave the league some of the most memorable performances.
As a tribute to these players, SPIN.ph ranks the Top 10 foreign players to grace the NCAA floor - before their time in the league actually runs out.
Of course, the top pick here is a no-brainer.
Sam Ekwe was so big of a game-changer that the effect of his arrival was not only limited to the NCAA but in other major collegiate leagues as well, UAAP included.
Ekwe’s arrival at San Beda - and the results which followed - opened the door for an exodus of foreign players as many schools followed suit, hoping to replicate the same result that the university from Mendiola enjoyed.
But Ekwe’s impact was second to none. The 6-8 Nigerian towed the Red Lions to three consecutive titles from 2006 to 2008, winning two MVPs in that stretch, including a rare Rookie-MVP plum in 2006.
By the end of his time with the Red Lions, Ekwe has amassed a 44-8 win-loss record with the Red Lions. With his results going hand in hand with his individual accolades, there’s little doubt on who the GOAT foreign reinforcement is in the NCAA.
Things did not start quite well for Sudan Daniel in his stint with the Red Lions as they failed to win a fourth successive championship in his rookie year.
But when he finally got it going, there was no stopping 'Superman.'
The season after, Daniel powered the Red Lions to a vengeful title sweep, going 16-0 in the elimination, before exacting revenge on the Calvin Abueva-powered San Sebastian Stags in two games in the finals.
Sudan swept the individual awards as well. The American powerhouse was named the Season MVP and the Finals MVP for the Red Lions.
It’s unfortunate that his stint with the Red Lions was cut short by an injury but for that golden season alone, Daniel has already cemented his place among the San Beda greats.
Ola Adeogun never won the MVP like his predecessors, but if there’s one thing that he does well - it’s winning.
Adeogun was a constant force in the paint for the Red Lions from 2012 to 2015, and the results followed. The 6’8 Nigerian won three titles for the Red Lions, beating arch-nemesis Letran for two of those titles.
Coming at a time when local big men like Ian Sangalang and Raymond Almazan were starting to make a name for themselves, and foreign reinforcements like Bright Akhuetie and Dioncee Holts were taking the league by storm, Adeogun did not lack in competition.
And in most days, he came out on top.
Ironically, Adeogun’s lone finals loss came against a team which neither had a towering big man or a foreign recruit. But that’s for another story,
In 2015, a low-key 18-year old, 6-8 Nigerian became just the third player to be named NCAA rookie-MVP after Gabby Espinas and Sam Ekwe.
That was how Allwell Oraeme announced his entry in the league and teams have been salivating for his services since.
Oraeme played for only two years for the Mapua Cardinals - but in those two years, he was certainly the best among the best, as his combination of length, athleticism and skill proved to be too much for opponents to overcome.
The soft-spoken Oraeme was named the MVP in those two years - and brought the Cardinals back to relevance after struggling in the previous seasons.
Season 92 was the last that we’ve seen of Oraeme, which is unfortunate considering his seemingly limitless potential.
When Prince Eze came in, he was merely in the shadow of teammate Bright Akhuetie for the Altas. But when he finally came into his own, boy was he unstoppable.
Eze produced eye-popping numbers the moment his buddy Akhuetie left the Altas to join the UP Fighting Maroons. Eze would have been the MVP twice if they made the Final Four in Season 93.
The arrival of coach Frankie Lim only made things better for Eze, as he was utilized to near perfection and became the centerpiece of a grizzled Perpetual team which made an amazing run to the semifinals in Season 94.
Rightfully so, “The Collector,” as he fondly calls himself, collected his first MVP, and a few months later, a college diploma.
If we’re going to talk about low-key reinforcements, then look no further than Donald Tankoua.
Tankoua came at a time where the Red Lions were in a transition, from coach Boyet Fernandez to coach Jamike Jarin and back to Fernandez. But he always rode the tide and played true to his potential.
Tankoua is far less flashy compered to his predecessors - he does not talk a lot, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dunk in a game. But boy is he effective.
When he gets the ball down low, he’s strong enough to bully his way past the double teams. He’s also a good passer, forcing his defenders to play honest most times.
He has three titles and counting for the Red Lions, with the most memorable one coming in NCAA Season 93 where he dominated the Lyceum Pirates enroute to a Finals MVP award.
If Tankoua bags his fourth title with the Red Lions this year, then he deserves a position in the Mt. Rushmore of foreign student-athletes.
Bright Akhuetie is one of the most popular foreign reinforcements now, given that he was at the forefront of the UP Fighting Maroons’ run to the UAAP Finals last season.
In the NCAA, he was a different beast altogether.
Akhuetie took the league by storm, and it’s such a shame that only a few people will remember his time with the Altas where he dominated his opponents with his sheer athleticism and raw power.
Akhuetie didn’t just look like LeBron James - for a time, he played like LeBron James for the Altas.
Akhuetie played above the rim, made shots beyond the arc, excelled with his post game, and moved well without the basketball. It’s still hard to understand how a team with Akhuetie, Eze and Ginebra star Scottie Thompson never made it to the Final Four, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Akhuetie remains one of the most dominant foreign recruits to ever play in the NCAA.
A lot of credit to Lyceum’s renaissance is given to CJ Perez and rightfully so, but Mike Nzeusseu’s contributions to the Pirates’ run shouldn’t be overlooked.
The American reinforcement actually had monster numbers before Perez was deemed eligible to play, and he took a backseat just to make sure that the ‘Baby Beast’ gets his game going.
The results were astounding, to say the least.
In Season 93, the Pirates pulled off a historic season sweep, although it ended in disappointment after they got swept by the Red Lions.
Nzeusseu was back at it again the year after, though they just can’t seem to figure out a way to solve the San Beda puzzle.
Now in his final year, Nzeusseu will get one more shot at a title and with Perez gone, bigger things are expected from him.
Perhaps the only memory that NCAA fans have from Nunu Noah is the NCAA Season 92 Finals wherein he pretty much did everything for the Jamike Jarin-coached squad, stepping up for the injured Donald Tankoua.
Noah was grabbing rebounds, pushing the basketball by himself and carving up the Arellano defense, as he led the Red Lions back to the top of the NCAA, later earning a Finals MVP citation for his efforts.
Noah eventually had to play behind to Tankoua in the future, but with a title and a Finals MVP in his cap, Noah doesn’t need to prove anything at all this time.
Arellano has made the finals twice in their short stint in the NCAA and both times the Chiefs had Dioncee Holts manning the paint for them.
His final year for Arellano was certainly forgettable, but at his best, Holts added a different dimension to the Chiefs' game with his range, mobility and rebounding.
While foreign bigs are often seen dominating in the paint, Holts made his damage outside - with his sweet stroke and his ability to put the ball on the floor.
His presence alone gave spitfire guards like Jiovanni Jalalon and Nard Pinto room to operate - which was key for Arellano’s recent success.