The UAAP is the country’s premiere collegiate league where a lot of young Filipinos showcase their talents. But succeeding in the UAAP is no guarantee for success in the pros.
As competitive as the UAAP is, the PBA is a totally different animal. It is where the best of the best Filipino players from all over the country and around the world end up flexing their muscles. The players are stronger, faster, more athletic, more skilled, and more hardworking. The plays are more complex, the training more rigorous, and the games a lot more physical.
With this increased level of competition, it is not unusual to see former collegiate studs from the UAAP find themselves in unfamiliar positions riding the bench, jumping from team to team, or even without a team. Let us take a look at former UAAP stars whose games, for one reason or another, failed to translate to the pros.
(Editor’s Note: This list is made up of UAAP stars from the last 10 years.)
The former UST standout and UAAP Season 72 Rookie of the Year was one of the best players to have come from the Growling Tigers program since their 2006 title. For UST, Teng was a reliable scorer and shooter whom they leaned on especially in close games. But he is currently on his third team in five seasons in the PBA and has never averaged more than 10 minutes per game for an entire conference.
One thing that has held Teng back from succeeding in the pros is his overall lack of athleticism. He doesn’t run fast or jump high. And unlike his younger brother Jeron, he is also not exceptionally strong to make up for his lack of athleticism. He is also a streaky shooter with a limited game off the dribble, which obviously doesn’t mix well with his below-average athleticism as opposing teams can easily contain him. While Teng may still eventually find his niche in the pros as an off-the-bench scoring option for teams — especially now that he plays for his college coach Pido Jarencio once again — it is unlikely that he will ever get the opportunity to shine as a main contributor in the PBA.
Nico Salva is one of the rare players to have won five titles during his five-year UAAP stint with Ateneo. As one of the most consistent contributors for the Blue Eagles, he was also named the Finals MVP for two of those titles. In the PBA, Salva is now on his fifth team in as many seasons while barely being able to figure in the rotation of any of the teams — not even for the lowly Mahindra Floodbusters (now columbian Dyip).
In Ateneo, Salva was used mainly as a power forward who operated around the mid-post area where he used his deadly mid-range jumper alongside some crafty footwork to get buckets. And while his mid-range jumper is still reliable, the problem with Salva in the PBA is that he is neither big nor strong enough to match-up with power forwards who defend him. He also doesn’t have the quickness nor a refined perimeter game to be used as a small forward or even as a small-ball power forward. Salva was also never the best of defenders in college, which is highlighted even more in the PBA.
Once Paul Lee’s running mate for the dominant UE teams in the latter part of the 2000’s, Elmer Espiritu has been out of the PBA for 3 years now despite only being 32 years old. A Mythical Five member and Defensive Player of the Year during his last UAAP season with the Red Warriors, the springy Espiritu was selected as the fourth overall pick in the 2010 PBA draft. His game seemed like it would translate well to the pros due to his elite athleticism as well as ability to hit the occasional outside jumper, but his lack of strength as well as a relatively one-dimensional game may have hurt his ability to flourish to the PBA.
At this point, a return to the PBA is unlikely for Espiritu, but he could definitely still ply his trade in other leagues such as the MPBL or the ABL.
Another Ateneo product who was also integral to the school’s magical 5-peat run, Ryan Buenafe is one of the most beloved Ateneo players of the past decade. Unfortunately, the former UAAP Rookie of the Year and Season 73 Finals MVP has failed to make a mark in the professional ranks, mainly due to his fitness (or lack thereof).
Weight problems have always plagued Buenafe, but his talent and basketball IQ were often enough to compensate for him in college. As Buenafe soon found out, it doesn’t work like that in the pros. His PBA rookie contract with the Alaska Aces was infamously adjusted to include a clause with targets for his body fat percentage before he could be paid in full. While there are no official accounts as to whether or not the former eighth overall pick met those targets, the fact that he hardly played regular minutes for his teams and that he is out of the PBA and currently plying his trade in the MPBL could be taken as an answer for that question.