With the UAAP projected to resume in February next year, fans and the Lasallian community alike may reminisce about the legendary days of DLSU, especially that of the Green Archers in Men’s Basketball. While others may mention the 90s team of Derrick Pumaren or the early 2000s squad of his brother Franz, the best iteration of the Green Archers might as well be Aldin Ayo’s Season 79 roster who walloped their opponents and won the crown with a 16-1 season record.
But the catalyst of the team’s success was no other than dominant Cameroonian center Ben Mbala, who won as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) with an average of 20.6 points, 16 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals that season.
Amid constant criticism during his collegiate stint, Mbala powered through and even experienced tremendous success in the two seasons he donned the Green-and-White jersey. Four years since his departure from Taft, success continues to follow Big Ben, who now brings his ball game to the pros.
Lessons from UAAP
As a college standout, Mbala acted as a role model to both his peers and to the entire Lasallian community. Apart from his 6’8”-stature, his prominent status as a star player made him no stranger to attention. He shares, “You [have] got to understand that…what you do, what you say, the way you act, or react, will always be looked at. So you [have] got to find a way to…help other people who look up to you.”
But before he officially geared up for the team from Taft, the Cameroonian faced eligibility issues in the UAAP that barred him from competing as early as Season 78.
“I was supposed to play, and after they [told me], ‘You know you gotta wait one more year,’ it was tough. I went through depression,” the former UAAP MVP discloses. He explains further, “Usually what people do is, they don’t want to acknowledge it (depression), and they just sort of play tough and try to brush it off. I had to acknowledge [that] I was not okay.”
Because of these circumstances, Mbala reveals he had to “recenter” himself to think of his life goals, “It was at this time of my life where I just decided to do it for myself first. It wasn’t easy.” Luckily, the DLSU big man was not alone during his troubling times, and cites that he got support from his friends, family, and the people who surrounded him and reminded him that “[he] can still do it.”
Weathering the storm, the UAAP Season 79 champion says he grew from this experience. “Like people say, a tough time makes tough people. Out of it, I became a better person, [a] better athlete, and [a] better student,” he quotes.
In spite of these experiences, Mbala fondly looks back on his playing days performing in front of the passionate DLSU faithful. “Every time I [played for] La Salle, [when] the cheerleaders and the fans would start [chanting] ‘Animo La Salle,’ it was just something that [gave] me goosebumps,” he recalls. He stresses that no matter how tired he was during the games, the palpable support from the crowds would give him “the strength to give everything during the game.” “Those are the moments I even dream about. I miss those moments,” says the former MVP.
Growth as a pro
Due to the controversies that surrounded him, Mbala decided to forgo his final playing year in the UAAP and instead take his talents to Mexico. But despite leaving La Salle, he absorbed a plethora of lessons that he says have stuck with him. “In school, people will come see me [and] I don’t even know them. Being able to celebrate wins with the communities, the fans, it was something special—it was really a family to me,” he shares.
Mbala also predicates his evolution as a player to Ayo’s training, which he says pushed him to continue expanding his repertoire, “I was already athletic, but with the conditioning that we had during preseason, I was on a different level. I had to play defense from [positions] one to five. That helped me a lot in my career.”
In terms of how Ayo contributed to his improvement as a player, Big Ben mentions that his former coach focused on bettering his mobility and how to adjust in defending different positions. “He [helped] me work on my personal game—dribbling, handling, shooting,” he adds.
Taking on Ayo’s challenge to add more tools to his belt, the former UAAP MVP allowed himself to mature as an athlete. Mbala expresses, “Usually, you get better with age because your understanding of the game and the way you read the game is different. I’m lucky enough to have [had] a coach who’s open-minded and the way he sees basketball is very advanced.”
After playing professionally in France, Korea, and Mexico, Mbala just recently signed a new contract with Caceres Patrimonio de la Humanidad in Spain.
To La Salle
As his professional basketball journey continues, Mbala’s does not deny that his being a Green Archer holds a special place in his heart. Giving a message for the DLSU community, he relays, “Honestly, I just [want] them to know that I really miss them. It’s been in my plans, going back to Asia to play.” However, the Cameroonian athlete explains that with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, his mentioned plans had to be benched—at least for now.
“Hopefully, soon, I get to come back and play again [in the Philippines],” Mbala ends.