The UAAP has been the premier showcase of amateur talent in the Philippines, with players from that league going onto fruitful careers, including some donning the Gilas Pilipinas jersey, be it while still an amateur, or when they’ve moved onto the pros.
In addition to representing the country, former UAAP stars like Paul Lee, Terrence Romeo, LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Jvee Casio, and Chris Tiu have become standouts on their respective PBA teams as well, just to name a few luminaries. Even more have gone on to productive PBA careers, despite not having had “Pilipinas” on the front of their jerseys.
We now look at a more recent batch of former UAAP MVPs to see how they have been faring after becoming pros. While none have become MVPs in the PBA yet, some have, as mentioned, represented the country abroad.
NOTE: Obviously, 2011/12 UAAP MVP Bobby Ray Parks and 2014/16 UAAP MVP Kiefer Ravena are not on this list yet, since they haven’t gone through the PBA Draft. When they do make the leap, we’ll definitely revisit those two to see how they rank amongst their peers.
Jervy Cruz (UST), UAAP MVP 2007
Jervy Cruz was a beast in his three seasons playing for the UST Growling Tigers. Manning the middle for the Espana institution, Cruz made his team a perennial title contender while in the UAAP.
He had an instant impact on the squad, as in his first season (Season 69), Cruz helped the UST Tigers go on a Cinderella run, winning UST’s first UAAP Championship in 10 years by upsetting a heavily-favored Ateneo Blue Eagles team.
All-in-all, Cruz won a UAAP title, one regular season MVP award, and three Mythical 5 selections in his collegiate stint.
In 2007, Cruz was selected fourth overall by the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the PBA Draft. He proved to be an integral part of the team’s rotation, no matter if he was starting or coming off the bench. In 2012, he helped RoS win their first title in franchise history, then followed that up in 2013 by winning the Mr. Quality Minutes prize. His tenure with the team however ended in 2015, when a series of trades saw him eventually land with crowd favorites Barangay Ginebra San Miguel.
Rabah Al-Hussaini (Ateneo), UAAP MVP 2008
Rabah Al-Hussaini surprised everyone in the league by dominating the UAAP in 2008. After three seasons as an inconsistent reserve for the Blue Eagles, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Flashing an improved mid-range shot and a dominant post game, Al-Hussaini became a double-double machine for Ateneo, resulting in the number one overall seed for the team, and the UAAP MVP award for himself in Season 71.
He wasn’t finished yet though, as he submitted an unstoppable stretch during the UAAP Finals versus arch-rivals DLSU Green Archers. Al-Hussaini exploded for 31 points in game one, en route to Ateneo’s first title since 2002, and the beginning of a five-peat run.
Al-Hussaini was beaten out by UST’s Dylan Ababou in 2009, but he was still a force, helping the Blue Eagles win back-to-back titles, and claiming the Season 72 Finals MVP prize.
For a short time, Al-Hussaini had a stint with the first incarnation of Gilas Pilipinas, but he later opted to go pro, entering his name in the 2010 PBA Draft. Many expected him to go first, but in a shocker, Air21, which had the top three picks, opted to select Al-Hussaini’s Ateneo teammate, Nonoy Baclao, before him.
Reports concerning his attitude emerged as the supposed reason for him being selected second, but Al-Hussani opted instead to show his worth on the court. Amidst a trade to the powerhouse Petron Blaze Boosters in the middle of his rookie season, Al-Hussaini managed to put up 14 points and seven rebounds an outing, until an ACL tear ended his rookie season. Despite his shortened campaign, Al-Hussaini still picked up the Rookie of the Year award.
That turned out to be the apex of his career in the PBA though. Through multiple trades, he’s never averaged more than eight points and five rebounds since his freshman season in the pros. Controversially, after getting permission from the Meralco Bolts to return to Kuwait to work on some of his personal documents, he proceeded to go AWOL, and reportedly even suited up with a professional team there.
This past season though, Al-Hussaini made his return to the PBA and the Bolts, hooking up with his collegiate coach Norman Black, though he’s been shelved again due to injury.
Dylan Ababou (UST), UAAP MVP 2009
After a productive rookie season on a four-win UST team back in Season 68, Ababou emerged as a key piece during UST’s run to the Season 69 championship. A versatile forward, Ababou later showed that he could be the centerpiece for a title contender.
In his final season at the collegiate level, Ababou led UST to a Final Four berth, while averaging 20 points a game, a feat that led to him being named MVP. The team was eliminated in the Final Four by eventual champions Ateneo, but Ababou managed to parlay his production into a spot on the Gilas Pilipinas squad.
Following some productive years with the national team, Ababou and many of his Gilas teammates turned pro in 2011, with the UST product getting selected tenth overall by the Barako Bull franchise.
Ababou had some strong scoring nights with Barako, but the team eventually traded him to Barangay Ginebra, where he struggled to get playing time. He did shine during the 2012 All-Star Game though, as he and James Yap tallied 44 points each, setting a new ASG record.
Things went downhill from there however. Multiple injuries, including an ACL and MCL tear, derailed Ababou’s promising career. When he was healthy, Ginebra could barely fit him into their tight rotation. Eventually, the team sent him back to Barako Bull, where he had a successful return stint during the 2015 Governors’ Cup. Right now though, he’s back to being a depth guy, following an offseason trade to the Tropang TNT.
RR Garcia (FEU), UAAP MVP 2010
RR Garcia’s seniors-level UAAP debut was delayed due to a stint with the RP Youth Team, but it was clear how good he was when he finally stepped onto the court with the FEU Tamaraws.
In 2010, his second season, Garcia helped lead FEU to the best record in the league. Despite playing on a veteran-heavy team, Garcia stood out, and bagged the MVP prize. That season, the Tams were heavily-favored to win the crown, but they got ambushed by a plucky Ateneo team that swept them in the Finals for a third straight championship.
A season later, Garcia had FEU in the Finals anew, but once again, Ateneo proved to be too much for them.
The year 2012 saw a shift in FEU and Garcia, brought about by the emergence of another talented guard, Terrence Romeo. With most of the veterans on their two Finals teams moving on, the new dynamic duo piled up a ton of points, but still failed to produce a championship.
Entering the 2013 PBA Draft, Garcia was selected sixth overall by the GlobalPort Batang Pier, resulting in a reunion with Romeo, who was tabbed a pick before him by the same squad. In the pros, Garcia was overshadowed by Romeo, which led to him getting traded to Barako Bull in his second season. On his own for the first time in a long time, Garcia has been emerging as one of the ex-Barako, now-Phoenix squad’s top players, with an 18.3 ppg average in the on-going Commissioner’s Cup.
Terrence Romeo (FEU), UAAP MVP 2013
Terrence Romeo was born to score. As an FEU Baby Tam, Romeo set the UAAP Juniors’ scoring record with 82 points in a single game. With that feat under his belt, Romeo proceeded to wreak havoc on the seniors division.
Copping the Rookie of the Year award, Romeo continued to get better with each season, culminating in being named UAAP MVP in 2013, thanks in part to averaging 22 points per game. Still, he and RR Garcia weren’t enough to produce a UAAP championship for Far Eastern U. In what turned out to be his last season in 2013, Romeo, Garcia, and the Tams fell short against the DLSU Green Archers in the Finals.
Romeo surprised many by declaring for the PBA Draft a few months later, forgoing his final year of collegiate eligibility. The decision paid off though as he was selected fifth overall by the GlobalPort Batang Pier. After a strong rookie season when he averaged 12 points a game, Romeo became a star in his sophomore year by doing what he did best – score. Romeo upped his average to 20 points a night, a feat that led to him being invited to join Gilas 3.0.
As a member of the national team, Romeo wowed many on a bigger, international stage. This season, he returned to the PBA and showed that what he did with Gilas was no fluke. Now norming 25 points per game, Romeo helped GlobalPort make their first semifinals appearance in the 2015-16 Philippine Cup.