The highly vaunted De La Salle Green Archers didn’t look impressive in their first game versus the defending champs Far Eastern University Tamaraws in UAAP Season 79. What would have been a rout turned into a nail-biter as the Archers squandered a 16-point lead in the third quarter before the late game heroics of King Archer Jeron Teng eked out a close win.
But what was really interesting was the debut of Cameroonian center Benoit Mbala who sat for three years before donning the green and white uniform in what was officially his first UAAP game. Mbala had to wait two years for his residency and wasn’t allowed to play last season as he participated in a commercial league. Last season without Mbala, the Archers had a disappointing 6-8 record, missing the Final Four in a year they were supposed to be contenders.
Mbala shrugged off a lackluster start in his first UAAP games and posted 13 points and a whopping 23 rebounds to go along with four blocks while battling another “giant” center Prince Orizu. Mbala, with his size, speed, and athleticism, outclasses any player in the UAAP today. If his play continues, he will arguably be one of the greatest imports in recent college basketball history.
In a preseason tournament a few months ago, Mbala led the Archers to a sweep and a title against the best collegiate teams in the land. He averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks taking home the Most Valuable Player, Best Defensive Player, and a spot in the mythical five. He was a man among boys as he bullied his way to dominance, besting other centers, local or otherwise.
Mbala has been on the basketball radar since 2012 with his breakout performance in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League. He made waves as a 17-year old including a 41-point, 16-rebound, 4 block performance against the University of Santo Tomas. He committed to La Salle in 2013 and after three years of waiting, his moment has finally arrived.
Mbala said while his “downtime” was quite frustrating, this allowed him to “grow” as a player and ponder on his career. Recently, his sterling play got him an invitation to play for the Cameroon national team but he opted to “focus on La Salle and his studies.” He added, “I won’t let my school down again. When I was down, my school never gave up on me. I was given a second chance and I promised to make it up to my teammates, the alumni and our supporters.”
Mbala can easily make it up especially if La Salle wins another title this year – a title they last enjoyed in 2013. He together with Teng, mainstays Jason Perkins, Abu Tratter, Thomas Torres, Andrei Caracut, and highly-touted rookie Aljun Melecio are favorites to win it all in Season 79. There are even those who are expecting a clean sweep all the way to the UAAP Finals. A perfect season would be more than enough to make up for lost time. Mbala has finally arrived.