MANILA, Philippines – Although his basketball career in the Philippines might be over, former De La Salle big man and two-time UAAP MVP Ben Mbala is still up to date with the latest developments about the sport in the country.
And in the wake of the NCAA announcing that the collegiate sports league will ban foreign players across all events starting in 2020, it’s safe to say the Cameroonian has been left bewildered by the pronouncement.
“It’s a little bit harsh,” Mbala, 22, told Rappler in an exclusive interview.
“All over the world, there are players from everywhere. Teams are mixed. We haven’t had this problem of foreign student-players being treated or looked at [differently], but right now, because they have one or two foreign players in the team composed of, let’s say, 15 or more players, that’s not even one-third of the team. I feel like it’s a little bit of a racist connotation.”
The NCAA made the announcement this week after spending the last few years debating the merits of stopping foreign students from participating in the league’s sporting events.Whether or not current foreign recruits have years of eligibility remaining in their college careers after these next two seasons, they will no longer be allowed to engage in any of the league’s competitions.
Filipino-foreigners, however, will still be allowed to take part in the league.(READ: NCAA to ban foreign players starting Season 96 in 2020)
“Okay 'yun. Basta may dugo kang Filipino, your mother or your father is a Filipino," said NCAA Management Committee chairman Frank Gusi.
After the NCAA went public with its decision, many were quick to argue that it was hypocritical to celebrate the accomplishments of Filipino athletes abroad but not allow players from other country to succeed in the Philippines.
Even if he says he understands where the league is coming form, it’s a sentiment that Mbala still agrees with.
“It’s a little bit unfair, because… every time there’s a Filipino excelling abroad, you know, you’re going to say, ‘That’s the Filipino pride.’ I understand that. But on the other hand, you also have to be able to give the opportunity to other people to excel in your country.”
Mbala argued that the presence of foreign students, even if they might be more naturally talented, can help local players in improving their abilities.
“You can’t tell me you just want to have like average people or mediocre people in your country,” he said. “Of course you want people in a level who can help Filipinos improve.”
That thought was also attested to by another former two-time UAAP MVP in Kiefer Ravena, who before declaring for the PBA Draft in 2017 tried his luck abroad with Dallas’ team in Texas in the NBA D-League.
Taking to Twitter to respond to those in favor of the NCAA’s decision, Ravena argued that, from a competitors’ point of view, it might be better for Filipino players to use the presence of foreign recruits as a challenge to get better.
Great point. But what if our local bigs took it as a challenge instead of and excuse of them not being able to play? Just from a competitor’s pov. https://t.co/bN2g12Wn3A — Kiefer Ravena (@kieferravena) June 20, 2018
Mbala, whose two MVP awards in the UAAP in 2016 and 2017 received criticism from skeptics because of him being a foreign recruit, also said: “For me it should just be a wake-up call for Filipinos to think about working harder and to be able to match up [against] players [winning awards].”
In the men’s basketball tournament of the 92nd season of the NCAA in 2016, 4 of the 5 players in the Mythical 5 team were foreign student-athletes. Only one – Arellano’s Jio Jalalon – was a homegrown player. That event was one of the factors which led to the collegiate league’s latest announcement.
But more than the athletics aspect, Mbala argued that preventing athletes from abroad whose main goal is to seek education in the Philippines will be what impacts them more.
“I feel like they’re not going to be happy at all because, first of all, you’re not allowing a kid or player to have a scholarship to be able to study and to be able to have an education,” he argued.
“At the end of the day, we’re forgetting that they’re all students studying and having an opportunity in life. And I feel like, for me, it’s the way of the Filipino [to help] other people from other countries.
“Why can’t you help when you have the possibility to?”
Another former foreign student-athlete who was irked by this is Sudan Daniel, who played for San Beda in the NCAA, earned his degree in marketing and business, and currently works as an executive for the Titan Group.
In 2010, Daniel helped the Red Lions pull off a perfect 18-0 romp on the way to the men’s basketball title, winning season and Finals MVP awards in the process.
Via Wednesday’s night ESPN Sportscenter episode, Daniel weighed in on the topic with his opinion:
. @Sudaniel18 broke his silence on the controversial NCAA policy. https://t.co/sjbZSrcfR4 | #SportsCenterPH pic.twitter.com/0ZSq2m77Gy — ESPN5 (@Sports5PH) June 20, 2018
Following the NCAA’s decision, all eyes now turn to the other major collegiate sports league in the Philippines, the UAAP, to see if it plans on making a similar announcement. When asked what he feels about the prospect of the league he played for following a similar path, Mbala wasn’t shy to voice his opinion. (READ: Mbala eyes NBA dream, urges UAAP to stop 'toying around' with players' careers)
“I’ve heard about the UAAP thinking about following the NCAA and if they do so, that’s going to be really bad for basketball in the Philippines. Because what about the foreigner kids that are probably in the Philippines studying, but at the same time, they can play ball? They won’t be able to play ball just because they’re not Filipinos?”
What’s he up to?
When contacted by Rappler for comment, Mbala was actually at the airport waiting for his flight that would take him to Cameroon’s national basketball team as it prepares for a pair of tournaments.
“Since I left the Philippines, I had a stop in Mexico and then I ended up finishing my season in France where I had a great season and I was able to go all the way to the finals and the playoffs. Unfortunately, we lost in the finals.”
Mbala shared his journey after leaving La Salle following the conclusion of last year’s UAAP season. “I’m doing great. Right now I’m on my way to join the national team to do what I do best: play ball.”
With Mbala in the fold, Cameroon is going to play in a small pocket tournament in Istanbul, Turkey, with a new head coach from France calling the shots. Come June 25, the 3rd window of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers begins with his team in the same group as Tunisia, Chad, and Guinea.
“I’m excited to be there with the team and to help the national team. With that being said, I try to always learn and improve. Because at the end of the day, there’s always a chance to add something in my game and learn from playing against the best in the world.” – Rappler.com