Mbala’s absence challenge for Archers
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 5, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Reigning UAAP senior men’s basketball MVP Ben Mbala may miss up to two games in Season 80 that starts Saturday but said his experience with the Cameroon national team in the FIBA AfroBasket Cup will go a long way in preparing him for La Salle’s bid to win back-to-back crowns.

Mbala, 22, is now in Tunisia where Cameroon will kick off its FIBA AfroBasket Cup campaign against the host nation in Group C this Friday. Cameroon will face Guinea on Saturday and Rwanda on Sunday. The top two finishers of the four groups will advance to the knockout quarterfinals on Sept. 14 with the survivors moving to the semifinals on Sept. 15. The final is set on Sept.16. The Green Archers begin their title defense against FEU at the MOA Arena on Sunday then battle NU at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sept. 16 and Adamson at the MOA Arena on Sept. 20. If Cameroon makes it to the AfroBasket final, Mbala will miss the FEU and NU games.

Mbala joined the Cameroon squad in training camp in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for two weeks before heading to Tunisia last Friday. Missing in the Cameroon roster are NBA players Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors and Luc Mbah a Moute of the Houston Rockets. Mbala was one of 30 Cameroon players invited to try out for the national team. Also invited were former NU cager Alfred Aroga and San Beda center Arnaud Noah. Aroga is now in the US while Noah is playing for the Red Lions in the NCAA. 

Mbala survived the training camp of 15 players to make it to the final 12-man lineup with 6-5 naturalized player D. J. Strawberry, three French league imports 6-7 Narace Williams, 6-6 Franck Tchuoubaye and 6-2 Seidou Njaya, 6-4 Felix Bogmis, 6-11 Kenny Kadji and 6-6 Arnaud Moto.  Strawberry, 32, is the son of former major league baseball star Darryl and once played for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA. He has played as an import in Italy, Lithuania, Israel, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Turkey and Greece.

Before joining the Cameroon team, Mbala sought clearance from La Salle team patron Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco who gave his blessings for the second-year Archer to pursue his dream of playing for his country. It’s a big sacrifice for La Salle to lose Mbala for up to two games with Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Thomas Torres and Julian Sargent gone from last year’s roster. But the school wouldn’t get in the way of Mbala chasing his dream. La Salle coach Aldin Ayo said playing without Mbala will be a challenge to fill the void.

Mbala skipped the Cameroon team’s training in Yaounde last Aug. 1-7 and the first week of the Sao Paolo camp to finish his final exams at La Salle. “I truly believe that the camps and games will help me improve and grow as a player and in turn, also help me contribute more to the Green Archers in the UAAP,” said Mbala. “I took my final exams in advance and completed all my academic requirements before leaving as I cannot forget my responsibilities as a student. I will be back to play for La Salle after the AfroBasket Cup. My loyalty to the team has been unwavering for four years now and I’m sure playing for Cameroon will be beneficial not only for myself but also for the Green and White as a whole.”

In camp, Mbala said he’s learning to play his role with the national squad where he’s not the dominant big man unlike in the UAAP. “The adjustment to playing three and four is going smoothly,” he said.

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