In a span of nine days, one of La Salle’s current prime stars and reigning UAAP Season 79 Most Valuable Player, Ben Mbala, competed in the 2017 FIBA Afrobasket held last September 8 to 16. The continental championship was hosted by both Senegal and Tunisia with the Tunisians emerging as the eventual champions. Mbala represented his country, Cameroon, and succeeded in the group phase of the tournament over Guinea and Rwanda. However, their strong start was opposed by the Nigerians in the quarterfinals which resulted in Cameroon’s early exit.
Despite missing the tenacious presence of Mbala in the paint, the DLSU Green Archers managed to bag their first two wins against FEU and NU. Mbala missed two games of the UAAP season and reunited with his fellow Green Archers last September 20 as they edged the AdU Soaring Falcons in dominating fashion.
There seems to be a fine line between international competition and college athletics. It entails a whole different level of intensity and pressure. More so, it is considered as one of the highest levels of sports involving the best of the best in the realm of any sport.
“It’s also a motivation playing against guys like that, it makes you want to push yourself and improve and do better,” Mbala expounds on his experience playing against professionals.
Despite anxiety and first game jitters breaking out at any moment, Mbala upheld honor to La Salle and made a name for himself by asserting dominance in his game. Although Mbala was a novice in his experience in FIBA, he nearly replicated his MVP performance in the UAAP last season, averaging almost a double-double per outing with 21.8 points and 9.2 rebounds in his stint in the FIBA Afrobasket.
“They’re all pros but as a player, you don’t go out there just to back down. You know you’re still a basketball player after all and the thing you want to do is to win at the end of the day so I was giving my everything out there to compete,” he explains further.
Trust in the camaraderie
Regardless of his absence in the team, Mbala shared that his teammates’ support knew no bounds and international datelines. “When I was far away, they were still showing me support and asking me how things are going for me,” Mbala explained that for the past few years he’s been around, the team has constantly been his ultimate support system, his family.
Furthermore, he trusted that his team would continue to bring their A-game while he was away, stating that, “All of the players in the team are great players, everyone is able to bring something to the table and that’s what they did when I was out.”
One significant asset the Lasallian acquired in his participation in the African continental championship is self-assurance and poise. Also, the Cameroonian shot lights out from behind the arc in their upset loss versus UP – another skill added to his arsenal. Even though he surprised the crowd with his developed three-point shooting ability, he mentioned that it’s nothing new and that he has been practicing his stroke since the FilOil Flying V Preseason Cup.
“The FIBA Afrobasket just helped me gain confidence in my shot and [to] be able to take a shot and knock them down during games,” humbles Mbala.
“I’d say in any situation in life, you get an experience where you’ll always learn,” Mbala says, regarding his newfound confidence. However, the opportunity that the FIBA Afrobasket gave him was a hidden challenge for the Cameroonian as the experience was also able to make him a better player. “Playing there against stronger, bigger, faster, and maybe [professional] guys in the high level, I definitely learned a lot.”
Focused and grounded
On the rarity and honor of being able to play for your country, Mbala shared, “Playing in international tournaments doesn’t happen all the time. If you get the possibility to join, of course you should go.”
Improving one’s game and gaining confidence are both vital elements in advancing one’s growth as an athlete. Despite the numerous inquiries the Cameroonian receives with regards to his future in basketball, the Green Archer would always state that his focus is La Salle and his commitment is to the school.
“I’ll stick to that right now but I say I have a couple of ideas already and I’ll see how things will go,” Mbala concludes.