By: Jerome Lagunzad
Defending champion La Salle immediately displayed its razor-sharp form feared by many and the Green Archers could only get better and stronger with the impending return of reigning league MVP Ben Mbala.
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo hinted the possibility that the 6-foot-7 Mbala might return earlier than expected if and when his home country Cameroon fails to get past reigning AfroBasket titlist Nigeria in their knockout quarterfinals duel on Thursday afternoon.
Mbala, 22, has made good account of himself so far on his national team debut underscored by his near double-double average of 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds – both team-highs – in the preliminary round where Cameroon won two of its three matches in Group C and clinched a coveted playoff berth.
If the Cameroonians fall prey to the Nigerians, led by former Meralco import Champ Oguchi, Mbala has ample time to book a trip back to the Philippines ahead of La Salle’s blockbuster showdown against Senagalese counterpart Issa Gaye and National University on Saturdayat the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
“Ang sabi ni Ben, kung walang mangyayari doon, he might be back before our NU game,” shared Ayo on Sunday night after La Salle opened its title-retention bid in style behind a 95-90 victory over archrival Far Eastern University at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Ayo added they are also considering to utilize Mbala at the 3-spot since the former NBA Basketball Without Borders MVP winner is playing the forward position and is even hoisting up threes more often under the Cameroonians’ offense.
“We always tell him to do new things kasi ‘yung bata, grabe ang work ethic,” he said. “We might convert him to 3-spot when he comes back. He can play 2,3,4,5 for us now because of the skill set that he has developed.”
Ayo certainly could afford to make some experiment since the Green Archers looked more loaded than ever behind the presence of their vastly-improving backcourt built around the likes of veterans Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, Ricci Rivero and diminutive Aljun Melecio.
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