Pumaren: 'Imports' good for collegiate basketball, but awards should be separate

Lenda Douanga of Adamson and Angelo Kouame of Ateneo are two of the foreign student-athletes who saw action in UAAP Season 82. Ernie Sarmiento ESPN5

Adamson head coach Franz Pumaren backed the presence of foreign student-athletes in collegiate basketball and said Filipino players greatly benefit from playing with and against these so-called "imports."

In a recent guesting on the Coaches Unfiltered podcast, Pumaren said foreign players serve as the equalizer for schools that often find themselves empty-handed in stringent recruiting wars.

"It's my own opinion, but if I'm a small school compared to the other big schools in the NCAA, the only way for me to compete is to get an import. At least kahit papaano, you can compete with them," the five-time UAAP champion coach said.

"When it comes to recruiting local players, ang first option nila is the so-called big schools. Dun mahihirapan ka na agad. At least with the imports, you can level the playing field, especially if you're lucky to get a good import."

The NCAA last month upheld the ban on foreign student-athletes in all sports starting Season 96, citing how their presence did more harm than good for Filipino collegiate basketball players.

But Pumaren argued the opposite and said having locals play against their foreign counterparts forces them to make the necessary developments and adjustments and eventually raises the level of talent and competition.

"It's a good training ground din for local players," he said. "It improves the quality of the game, and it improves the level of competition. At the same time, 'yung local players will improve their skills."

However, Pumaren said the foreign student-athletes should not win the Most Valuable Player trophy and be named to the Mythical Teams, and instead have an awards system distinct from that of the local players as an alternative.

"I proposed this already to our board representative: dapat sa UAAP, hindi nagiging MVP ang import. They should be classified as 'best student-athlete'. Kaya nga we call them imports, they're bigger, they're stronger, more athletic, so lamang na sila kaagad," he said.

The NCAA applied that classification in Season 95, when San Beda Red Lions' Donald Tankoua was awarded the first and only Best Foreign player citation in league history.

In the UAAP, the last four MVP awards were won by foreign student-athletes, with University of Santo Tomas' Soulemane Chabi Yo grabbing the highest individual plum in his first year with the Growling Tigers last season.

Pumaren said such a system takes away from local players, like Jeron Teng, who placed third behind teammate Ben Mbala and Adamson's Papi Sarr in the MVP race in 2016, and Thirdy Ravena last year.

"How many local players ang 'di nakakuha ng local awards na they should have been the MVPs? Jeron Teng should have been the MVP, kaya lang they gave it to an import. Last year, dapat si Thirdy ang MVP [but] they gave it to another import.

Pumaren also cited the events of Season 92 in NCAA as a situation that should be avoided. That year, Arellano's Jio Jalalon was the lone local in the Mythical Five as Tankoua, Perpetual's Bright Akhuetie, Mapua's Allwell Oraeme, and Emilio Aguinaldo College's Laminou Hamadou topped the field.

"Kaya sa PBA, walang nag-MVP na import dahil imports 'yun. Best Import (ang sa kanila). At the same time, sa UAAP it should be Best Student-Athlete kasi kawawa 'yung locals eh. That's my opinion. That's up to the board if they want to decide on that one," said Pumaren.