One of the highlights of Season 79 was the introduction of head coach Aldin Ayo’s “mayhem” system to the UAAP. The Green Archers exemplified grit and grind, game in and game out, fulfilling the system their new coach brought about. They displayed great effort on both offense and defense, which ultimately brought La Salle its 9th UAAP Men’s Basketball Championship.
But what was more memorable was the definitive dominance Ben Mbala showcased, personifying Ayo’s system. Throughout the Green Archers’ dominant display in the elimination round and postseason, he led the team alongside team captain Jeron Teng.
However, prior to his UAAP debut, Mbala was only watching from the sidelines, patiently waiting for his turn. “I wanted to quit and just go home,” he recalled after three years of residency. He went through a lot of struggles emotionally, but with his ineffable love for the game, he was able to get back on track.
Entering with a bang
When the Cameroonian’s time finally came, he entered with a bang. His 13-point and 23-rebound performance in their opening game against FEU was only a glimpse of what Mbala had in store for the league.
Through 14 games, the 6’7” center averaged a double-double of 20.6 points and 16 rebounds a game. The numbers, however, do not do him justice. He consistently imposed his intimidating presence each game, displaying brute offensive skills and strength unparalled by any other player at the collegiate level.
Mbala was also a polarizing layer on defense. His stellar physique and athleticism made offensive players change their shot and his frenetic court defense had ball handlers looking over their shoulders, as he also recorded 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
“The thing I did the most was work harder, twice harder than anyone,” the Business Management Major explained midway through the season. “Before practice, I would come here early to go run. I’m already sweaty and tired before practice and I have to do the same job they’re doing and after practice I have to stay here.”
He would eventually become the first Lasallian to win the men’s basketball Most Valuable Player (MVP) since Don Allado in 1999 as he edged out AdU Soaring Falcon Papi Sarr and Teng,
Despite of his individual accolades, Mbala was left unsatisfied. “It’s not really on my mind [the MVP award]. My main goal is to win a championship,” he stated in his seventh edition of his Green Journal. “The only thing that will stay on the record is the guy who helped his team win the championship. That’s the thing I want to achieve.”
Mbala continued to deliver during the latter part of the season, particularly in the finals against arch rivals the ADMU Blue Eagles. He averaged 19 points and 12.5 rebounds over two games as La Salle swept the Blue Eagles en route to the title.
It was an apt finish to the sensational season he had put up with La Salle. After all the adversity he faced, Mbala was finally able to cherish the fruits of his labor. Mbala concluded after the winning championship and shared, “I’d just say this is sweet. Trust me.”