The influx of foreign student athletes in the Philippine collegiate basketball kicked the stakes and energy way, way up. But after years of schools that did not recruit from abroad complaining that the schools that did had an huge advantage, the league is closing its doors on them.
None of the schools are allowed to recruit foreign student athletes beyond their current lineup, and past 2020, none will be allowed to play. While one can hope that the NCAA eventually opens itself up again (I certainly do), this means we are now watching what could be the last of the foreign players for a while.
How do they match up against one another? Here are all the NCAA Season 94’s foreign student athletes, ranked.
7. Elie Ongolo-Ongolo (Team: Arellano Chiefs, Home country: Cameroon)
In recent years, the Arellano Chiefs’ success is tied not to the performance of their centers but to the skill of their guards. Think Jio Jalalon, Kent Salado, and this year, Levi Dela Cruz and Ian Alban. As such, Elie Ongolo-Ongolo doesn’t play a key role in the squad, acting merely as a hulking body to bother opponents while his teammates zoom around the court. And despite having been on the squad since the time of Jalalon, there are still moments where he gets lost on a play.
Nothing against Ongolo-Ongolo, but just to illustrate: It was A big freaking deal when he made a three this year. How big? The anchor started shouting into the microphone, “I’ve never seen him do that before!”
6. Toba Eugene (Team: San Beda Red Lions, Home country: Nigeria)
Eugene has been with the San Beda program for a long time, though his exposure before NCAA Season 94 has been limited to pre-season tournaments and slam dunk competitions. He finally gets a spot in time before the window on foreign student athletes closes, where his length makes him a great defensive asset.
But we aren’t seeing his true potential. Not only is he playing center behind Donald Tankoua, his lanky frame isn’t built like a center to begin with. He would make a better forward in a league with taller players. However, his towering height combined with the rule that teams can’t field two foreign student athletes on the court at the same time means it’ll be difficult for him to show what he’s really capable of.
5. Clement Leutcheu (Team: Benilde Blazers, Home country: Cameroon)
Clement Leutcheu has had quite the journey with Benilde. He was there during the dark days when the Blazers had a near-winless season, and was a key player in securing that single victory, where he scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Fast forward two years and CSB ended the first round in third place thanks to Coach TY Tang’s leadership, a combined effort from the rejuvenated squad, plus the high-energy heroics of rookie Justin Gutang.
Leutcheu is still there, and has proven he can a force to be reckoned with…on good days. He hasn’t been consistent enough nor given consistent opportunities on offense to dominate the way Lyceum’s Mike Harry Nzeusseu, Perpetual’s Prince Eze and San Beda’s Tankoua do. What’s good about him is he’s vocal on the court and on the sidelines, hyping his teammates up. But as the league-leader in technical fouls-four so far this season—he’d also benefit from keeping his emotions in check.
4. Hamadou Laminou (Team: EAC Generals, Home country: Cameroon)
Don’t look at the standings. The EAC Generals’ woes are rooted in a lack of reliable shooters—Jerome Garcia is almost single-handedly carrying the scoring load—but if you look at Laminou in a bubble, this guy is good talent. Laminou is going toe-to-toe with Nzeusseu and Eze on rebounds (10.5 a game, 4 offensive) and blocks (2.5 a game). He’s also the best free-throw shooter among the foreign student athletes (70%). Not bad for a comeback year after his ACL injury.
What puts him a notch below, though, is his turnovers. As a team, the EAC Generals still lack polish and made nearly 25 turnovers a game. Laminou committing nearly 4 of those certainly doesn’t help.
3. Donald Tankoua (Team: San Beda Red Lions, Home country: Cameroon)
Foreign student athletes in San Beda have big shoes to fill when you have alumni ni Ola Adeogun, but “Donnie,” as his teammates call him, does just fine. Tankoua is a reliable all-around guy who took home last year’s Finals MVP, and is still the most efficient shooter among this year’s foreign student athletes (52.7% on field goals). He’s consistent and stays composed, bordering on stoic, even during big games.
If Tankoua doesn’t feel like a massive star, it’s because the Red Lions’ roster has the likes of Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon—when the talent level is that high, the foreign student athlete is seen less as a game-changing savior. But there’s no doubt this year’s Red Lions wouldn’t be the same without their good old Donnie.
2. Mike Harry Nzeusseu (Team: LPU Pirates, Home country: Cameroon)
The Lyceum Pirates are still spotless this season, and that’s thanks to a lineup with guys like CJay Perez, the Marcelino twins, and Mike Harry Nzeusseu. Though having a scoring machine like Perez means Nzeusseu doesn’t need to operate from deep, the Cameroonian big man is key to the Pirates’ success.
His broad-shouldered, hard-as-a-freaking-rock frame makes him the most physically imposing foreign student athlete this year, which ties in nicely with the Pirates’ MO. When his teammates miss, Nzeusseu is right there with the put-back, helping make LPU the leader in second chance points. He’s also second in the league in rebounds (12 a game), and nabs a league-best 4.4 offensive rebounds per game.
I have a theory about foreign student athletes, and that’s their full potential can only be unlocked when his team sees him not as a visiting mercenary but as a full person and a partner no different from the other players.
Off the court, Mike has a wonderful relationship with the Pirates. Coach Topex Robinson was even the witness when Nzeusseu married his Filipina girlfriend, who had been his rock when his mother was critically injured in a vehicle accident back in Cameroon. Last game, he asked all his teammates and coaches to sign his warmer as a remembrance of who he’s playing with and for. The Philippines is a second home to Mike, and the Pirates, a second family.
1. Prince Eze (Team: Perpetual Altas, Home country: Nigeria)
Back when Bright Akhuetie played for the Altas, Eze felt more like the quiet, defensive-minded sidekick to Akhuetie’s flashy, good-on-both-ends, 20-20 style. Two years later, Eze has become a star in his own right. As of today, Eze averages 4.2 blocks a game—higher than all the other teams’ averages. This brings the Altas up to 6.6 blocks a game, while their closest rivals average in the 3’s. Eze was awarded Best Defensive Player last year, and it certainly seems like he’s on track to cop that award one more time.
It’s not just defense where Eze shines. He’s currently second only to CJay Perez in points per game (18.5 to Perez’ 21.1). At 6’11”, it’s no wonder Eze also leads the league in rebounds and (16.4 per game, 4.4 offensive). And he even took home the Player of the Week award when he made the game-winner on the Altas’ come-from-behind victory on home court.
But could he give the likes of Perez and Bolick the MVP? It’ll be tough considering the two are peaking so hard this season, but Coach Frankie Lim keeps his hopes high for Eze: “With the minutes I’m giving Prince, I’m expecting MVP output.” Whether or not he wins the prize, though Eze has proven this: He’s nobody’s sidekick anymore.