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UAAP: With heavy heart, Mbala exits DLSU

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By Jerome Lagunzad

Ben Mbala (MB photo | Rio Deluvio)

Ben Mbala (MB photo | Rio Deluvio)

While coach Adin Ayo is all set to make another tour of duty with La Salle in the UAAP basketball tournament next year, the Green Archers will have to complete their redemption without arguably the most significant piece of their championship puzzle.

Prized Cameroon big man Ben Mbala has hooked up with Mexican pro club Fuerza Regia de Monterrey recently, putting an end to his decorated career in the country’s most prestigious collegiate league where he was named as two-time league MVP.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce that the time has come for me to move on from De La Salle University and the Green Archers,” the 6-foot-7 Mbala, 22, said in a lengthy statement through his personal Twitter account (@benmbala) yesterday.

“I know my choice might come as a surprise to many, and I have to admit, the decision to leave was the toughest I have had to make after being with La Salle for so many years. But I feel that this decision is the best for the next stage of my career and development.”

The departure of Mbala, who could face strict scrutiny from the UAAP Technical Committee with the re-activation of the “Seven Year Out of High School” rule next season, serves as a big blow for La Salle which is aching to get back on top after falling to archrival Ateneo in the UAAP Season 80 finals.

The Green Archers will also miss 6-foot-5 Fil-American Abu Tratter who has maximized his playing eligibility. This leaves the likes of do-it-all forward Santi Santillan, lanky Justine Baltazar and hefty Prince Rivero to man the middle.

Perhaps the most dominant import to ever set foot in the country’s collegiate basketball scene, Mbala initially suited up for Southwestern University and turned heads when he scored 41 big points against fellow Cameroonian Karim Abdul and the University of Santo Tomas in an off-season tourney in 2012.

He then transferred to La Salle the following year but violated the two-year residency rules when he saw action in an unsanctioned tourney in General Santos City, keeping him out of the UAAP action for another year.

Mbala finally made his UAAP league debut in 2016 and proved he was worth the wait. He powered La Salle to the crown—its ninth overall and its first since 2013—behind a nearly flawless run capped by a two-game sweep of Ateneo in the finals.

So impressive was Mbala that he got the nod to suit up for his home country Cameroon in the 2017 AfroBasket for the first time in his career, keeping him out of the Green Archers’ first two matches in their title-retention bid.

Fondly called by many as “Big Ben,” Mbala continued to stall tall—literally and figuratively—above his rivals and showed glimpses of his vastly-improved offensive skills, even doing his damage from beyond the arc.

However, Mbala failed to steer the Green Archers back to the ‘Promised Land’ as they came up short in a gut-wrenching finish in the winner-take-all showdown won by the Blue Eagles, 88-83, before 22,000 roaring fans last Dec. 3.

Tapped to take over the spot of Nigerian import Kenny Adeleke, Mbala made his debut in the Liga Nacional de Balonces last Thursday. He compiled 9 points and five rebounds coming off the bench, leading Fuerza Regia to an 87-69 win over cellar-dwelling Panteras.

Still, Mbala expressed his gratitude to “Boss ECJ” (Eduardo C. Cojuangco), the managers, coach Aldin and the rest of the coaching staff, and all my teammates for the incredulous opportunity that has been given during my time there. You all have made my time in the Philippines genuinely worthwhile.

“I also want to thank the entire Lasallian community and the fans. Thank you for your never-ending support. I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to represent the Green Archers and will always be a Lasallian at heart,” he concluded.

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