With the UAAP Men’s Basketball tournament in full swing, many students, alumni, and sports enthusiasts alike have begun to dissect every player, shot, and game to the point that every dinner table conversation shifts from “How was your day” to “Did you see the game?” Yet far from the bright lights of the UAAP, DLSU’s Team B is quietly making their mark in the Fr. Martin Cup (FMC).
Currently standing at 2-2 as of press time, the team, composed of recruits serving their residency for the UAAP and former high school varsity players, compete against the Team Bs of other UAAP and NCAA schools as well as some less heralded schools with underrated yet driven talent.
“It’s hard [to assess ourselves] with Fr. Martin because we cannot scout the other teams,” says head coach Bob Noriega. “So I just tell our boys that though we are bracketed with the smaller schools than DLSU, you should not take them for granted because they are the hungry ones.”
With the likes of Ben Mbala, Gabby Reyes, Luigi Dela Paz, and Oda Tampus among those in the roster, DLSU’s Team B isn’t short on veteran leaders. Add the likes of Yankie Haruna, Daryl Pascual, and Josh Torralba, and the roster is shaping up to be a talented team looking for ways to get better.
“So far, we’ve just only played [a few] games but through that I mean it’s fun but it’s a learning process too,” Torralba says, adding that losses and mistakes show them the things they need to work on.
Noriega noted that Ateneo and San Beda are the teams to watch out for in this year’s FMC with Ateneo having players like Jerie Pingoy, Hubert Cani, and Aaron Black, and San Beda even fielding two teams. Besides these big name schools, he also realizes the potential of small schools like Enderun, which is being headed by former FEU player Pipo Nondou.
Although the Team B is already comprised of individually skilled players, Noriega stresses the importance of team chemistry and desire to win over the individual strengths of the players. He adds that the focus should be on team-based play, ones that will help them win games.
“If it’s a one-on-one sport, then you know, we’re okay,” he mentions. “But then, it’s a team game.”
Even in the early stages of the tournament, the team has encountered different obstacles that tested their mettle. In a recent game against TIP, Mbala was ejected for excessively complaining about the lack of fouls called against him. Losing him was tough, as the former SWU Cobra was a force on both ends of the floor. Add to that Torralba fouling out, and it seemed as if TIP would sneak past DLSU. However, strong veteran play and tough defense helped La Salle hold on to a slim 71-69 win, one that made Noriega proud of his team.
“That’s what I keep telling the boys, kami ni Coach Oliver, na in adversity, who would you want to be with? It’s just you and your teammates diba,” he said after the win. “You hang tough, you grind it out.”
Having played in last year’s FMC, many of the teams already know what the big man from Cameroon can bring. After dropping 36 points and 12 rebounds, he fouled out in the next game, an overtime loss to JRU. Prior to his ejection against TIP however, he led his team at the half with nine points, providing the dominating presence that couldn’t be contained one-on-one. The TIP game saw double or even triple teams hounding Mbala, forcing him to take contested shots or worse, turn the ball over.
“For Ben [Mbala], he has to learn to share the ball,” Noriega says, when asked about adjustments. “You know three guys are guarding him. Eh kasi siyempre, you know they see Ben, he’s strong, he’s big, he’s a monster. And he’s a monster that plays for us so that’s an advantage. But he’s young, and sometimes, yung youth niya, gets the best of him because he wants to win. He has a very competitive spirit.”
“The good thing is, as a team, we’re doing better than last year, [but we] still [have] a lot of stuff to fix,” Mbala adds.
“It’s a good lesson for Ben, it’s a good lesson for the team,” Noriega says when recounting the TIP game. “If I would quantify it, dapat mga four-game win yun eh, ganung importanteng panalo. We could’ve easily folded up. We lost Ben early in the second half, but we hung tough.”
Even with the bumps on the road, this hasn’t stopped the team from having fun playing the game they love. Along with that, the team understands that the fun that the game brings and the goal of winning it all go side by side.
“You know I’m just trying to be more efficient and be able to help the team next year as much as I can,” Mbala mentions.
“I’m looking forward to just getting better as a team, and then through that God has a plan for us,” Torralba adds.