The UAAP, considered one of the best collegiate leagues in the country, has produced a lot of PBA stalwarts throughout the years. Schools like Ateneo, La Salle, FEU, UE, and UST have produced a lot of greats because of their excellent basketball programs. PBA stars today like James Yap, Arwind Santos, LA Tenorio, Terrence Romeo, and Paul Lee began their super stardom during their days in the UAAP, and has helped the PBA maintain its status as being one of the best professional leagues in Asia.
While there are some stalwarts who have been excellent in both the amateur and pro ranks, there have also been players who weren’t able to bring up their A-game to the pros. Other players have been good role players after being stars for their respective schools, while some have kept their roles in college into the pros. Other players weren’t even able to play in the pros (with the strong competition from other amateur leagues and countries as well).
There have been different career courses for players who once played in the UAAP. Let’s take a look at former MVPs over the past decade and how they have fared in the PBA.
Rich Alvarez (ADMU), UAAP MVP 2000 & 2001
The Former King Eagle was Ateneo’s Mr. Everything. From guarding the opposition’s best player, being the team’s best rebounder, and even being the team’s facilitator at times. He helped the Blue Eagles to 5 final four appearances, 3 finals appearances, and a championship in 2002. With his athleticism and versatility on the court, he was made the #1 pick in the 2004 PBA Draft by the Shell Turbo Chargers. The two-time MVP had a solid rookie campaign winning rookie of the year, averaging 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. But after a solid rookie campaign, Shell disbanded and Alvarez has since bounced around the league, never averaging more than 6 points and 4 rebounds in a season. His game wasn’t able to translate in the pros, maybe because he couldn’t find a system where his game fits or his game wasn’t just fit for the pros. While Alvarez can still be remembered for being one of the best all-around UAAP players in our generation, he’ll be thought of as the guy picked ahead of National Team mainstays like James Yap, Marc Pingris, Ranidel De Ocampo, Sonny Thoss, and Gary David in the PBA.
Enrico Villanueva (ADMU) UAAP MVP 2002
After Rich Alvarez’s two MVP seasons, his teammate Enrico Villanueva finally won the award in 2002. The burly big man would’ve won the previous two MVPs (both then went to Alvarez) but in-game suspensions automatically prevented him to bag the medal. In his 2002 MVP and final season, he helped Ateneo end their 14-year drought with his strong inside presence and was selected 7th in the 2003 PBA Draft by the Red Bull Franchise. Nicknamed the “Raging Bull” in his days in the PBA, he was still a force to be reckoned with and became the face of the franchise. He had his best season in 2006, emerging as an MVP candidate and leading Red Bull to 2 Finals appearances and a championship that year. After his success with the franchise, he has bounced around the league, helping teams especially with his work on the inside. But injuries has derailed his productivity and has since been playing as an enforcer off the bench.
James Yap (UE) UAAP MVP 2003
James Yap is one of collegiate basketball’s most feared gunners in his days as a Red Warrior. With his different arsenal of long range shooting and craftiness at the basket, scoring 20 points in a game was a norm for him. He was also the leader of the UE squad that was a consistent fixture of being a contender during his stay there. Unfortunately for him, he had to face a determined Ateneo team and a deep FEU squad during his last 2 years in the UAAP. He left the Red Warriors after 4 years without any UAAP championships and applied for the PBA draft in 2004, a year removed from winning the UAAP MVP in 2003. He was selected 2nd overall in the 2004 PBA draft by the Purefoods, who was looking for a new face of the franchise after the retirement of their star player, Alvin Patrimonio, in 2002. After a relatively moderate rookie campaign for Purefoods, he catapulted into stardom in 2005, where he led Purefoods to a championship and won the 2006 PBA MVP, all in only his second year in the league. Since then he has been the face of Purefoods, and even the PBA. He won another MVP in 2010, while leading Purefoods (B-Meg/San Mig Coffee) to 7 championships (including a rare Grand Slam feat in 2014).
Arwind Santos (FEU) UAAP MVP 2004, 2005
Arwind Santos could arguably be the best college player of his generation. With his individual and team success, he may have the best collegiate resume on our list of UAAP MVPs. After an impressive debut in 2002, where he won UAAP Rookie of the Year, he led the FEU Tamaraws to 3 championships (well one was awarded to them) in four years. He was a two-time MVP and also a two-time Finals MVP (2003,2005) and was the anchor for the Tamaraw’s defense. After leading FEU to the title in 2005 (the last title FEU held before winning it in 2015), he decided to enter the PBA Draft, where he was selected 2nd in the 2006 PBA Draft by the Air21 Express. After a relatively successful career with the Air21 franchise, where Santos garnered mythical selections and was an integral part of their 2007 championship run for Air21 (eventually losing to Ginebra in 7 games). But the Lina franchise went on to disperse their stars and eventually traded Santos to the San Miguel Beermen, a franchise rich in championships. Arwind Santos would finally win his first title in 2011 with Petron while bagging the Finals MVP as well in the series. And in 2013, he finally won his first PBA Most Valuable Player award. Santos now plays 2nd fiddle to 2-time MVP June Mar Fajardo for San Miguel, but has been an integral part of San Miguel’s championship runs, winning 3 of the last 4 conference title (including 2 All-Filipino Cup championships).
Ken Bono (Adamson) UAAP MVP 2006
Ken Bono made a name for himself in 2006, having one of the best seasons by a player in the UAAP. With his wide body, and sweet shooting stroke from the outside, he dominated the league by averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds. He also led Adamson to their first Final Four appearance since the induction of the format. In the Final Four, he almost single-handedly carried Adamson to an upset win over a much-favored Ateneo Blue Eagle Team. He errupted for a career-high 33 points in the only playoff game of his UAAP career. After his MVP campaign, he joined the PBA Draft being selected 6th by the Alaska Aces in 2006. But his game couldn’t get through in the PBA, as he bounced around the league, never averaging more than 6 points in a season. He hopes to rejuvenate his career with the Meralco Bolts, as he is looking to be a key contributor for the resurgent team, after not being on an active PBA roster for 4 years.
During the first half of the 2000s, Former UAAP MVPs have had different career paths, some became franchise faces while others have struggled to stay in the league.
Part II will continue as we look at a more current batch of former MVPs in the pros.