In two months, Ben Mbala will make his long-awaited UAAP debut for the DLSU Green Archers.
Having served three long years of residency, the six-foot-seven 230-pound center out of Cameroon was initially set to play in Season 78. However, he had been deemed to violate league rules after playing in an unauthorized tournament in General Santos City.
With the UAAP set to commence in September, Mbala is more than ready to make his debut and redeem himself. “I’m here. I got their [the Lasallian community’s] back like they always had my back for years. I know they’ve been patient, they’ve been waiting. I’ll make it worth it. I’ll try my best to help the team get back to the top,” he says.
Hailing from Yaounde, Cameroon, Mbala first played the country’s number one sport, football. At the age of 13, he had grown to about six-foot-two and got into basketball.
“He [older brother Romuald] told me he had this friend who’s handling the junior team of the municipality. He told me I could go there and try out. Just play you know,” says Mbala on his basketball roots. “I walked in there with soccer/running shoes with a cheap basketball from the street and wearing a simple t-shirt.”
As he embraced a new sport, things definitely did not come easy for Mbala, as he did not make the basketball team of his high school, Institute Ndi Samba, in his first two years. He remained unfazed as he continued to pursue the game with his municipality’s team.
“I hated losing or I hated being the last so what I started doing, I started training twice a day,” Mbala shares on the humbling experience.
For love of the game
With continuous hard work and complete dedication, Mbala worked his way into the team in his last two years of high school. He had even earned a call-up to the junior national team of Cameroon between 2009 and 2010.
“It’s not like in the Philippines where they have U-16, U-17, and U-18 [age groups]. They [Cameroon] only have the senior team. The junior national team was just probably for having tune-up games just to see future potential for the senior national team in the future,” Mbala says when comparing the setup of the Philippines’ basketball program with that of Cameroon.
Being in a football dominant environment did not keep Mbala away from basketball, as he continued to appreciate the game further. “It was all about soccer [in Cameroon]. We just stayed there [basketball] because we loved the game and we just wanted to play. It feels great to wear the jersey of your country and say that you played for them,” he says.
Mbala continued to improve his game and showcase his skills as a two-time participant at the annual national camp conducted by compatriot Luc Mbah a Moute of the Los Angeles Clippers.
He had his eyes set on making the all-star selection, but unfortunately failed to make the cut the first time around.
“You know, being unfortunate [by] not making it to the all-star game, I got frustrated and told myself that I don’t wanna just stop here. I started working harder and harder,” he recounts.
A determined Mbala returned to the camp the following year. He made the all-star game as one of the top 20 participants. Furthermore, he was named to the top-five of Mbah a Moute’s camp and was given the opportunity to participate in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program in 2011 at Johannesburg, South Africa.
He rose to fame in the continent after being named MVP of the camp and received numerous scholarship offers to play in the United States. Mbala’s plans took another turn as visa issues hounded him.
The King Cobra
Mbala found his way to the Philippines, through fellow Cameroonian and former UE Red Warrior Mustapha Arafat, whom he had gone with to Johannesburg. He suited up for Southwestern University (SWU) in 2012 in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI).
“I’m not gonna lie to you. I was like ‘I don’t really know the Philippines.’ But when I got here I was really surprised. I saw the people and they were really die-hard fans of basketball,” shares Mbala on his first impressions of the country.
In his freshman year, he led SWU to its first ever CESAFI title over powerhouse University of Visayas (UV). Mbala also led the team to a fourth-place finish in the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) later on that year after averaging 27 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks, highlighted by his tournament-high of 41 points against the UST Growling Tigers.
La Salle’s newfound post presence
Metro Manila-based schools sought to recruit the athletic Cameroonian, who was then just 17 years old. In the end, Mbala eventually chose to take his talents to Taft, where he is currently pursuing a degree in Business Management.
Mbala also took the time to recount how his third and additional year of residency shaped him as a person. Having to sit out three years and coping with the pressure was a difficult experience for the Cameroonian. It was in this tough situation that Mbala took the chance to further mature as a person.
“I had to understand that I have to go through things like that to be mature. I’m a man and I have to be accountable for my actions and my mistakes. I found a way to get back on track and I just left it up to God,” he says. “I have to first apologize to the entire Lasallian community and Boss Danding [Cojuangco] for making that mistake. You know he [Boss Danding] too was feeling down for me not playing, despite the fact they tried everything for me to play that year. I have to apologize to the team for letting them down…”
In the 2016 FilOil Flying V Preseason Cup, Mbala was named to the Mythical Five and was named Best Defensive Player and Most Valuable Player thanks to tournament averages of 21.9 points, 15.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per outing. He led La Salle to the preseason title over NCAA’s Arellano University with a near triple-double, recording 28 points and 26 rebounds to go along with eight blocks.
One La Salle, one team, one family
When was asked how he would like to impact the team in his UAAP career, Mbala shrugged off leaving a personal legacy. Instead, he placed an emphasis on supporting the team. “I wanna make it easier for my teammates. I want them to know that I’m there, and I got their back,” he stresses.
Ben Mbala may be almost 12,000 kilometers away from his homeland, friends, and family, but despite this, he has his newfound family in his coaches, teammates, and the entire Lasallian community to support him through thick and thin.
“Even if I do something wrong or something [bad] happens, we’re there, we’re still a team, we’re still a family,” Mbala says. “We got each other’s back. I’m not here to be the new King Archer or the new leader. I’m here to help them.”