MANILA, Philippines – After opening their UAAP title defense with back-to-back victories, the De La Salle University Green Archers could only get better when they welcome back star center Ben Mbala on Wednesday.
Mbala is coming off a dominant campaign in the 2017 AfroBasket, where he averaged 21.8 points and 9.3 rebounds for Cameroon. They made it all the way to the quarterfinals, where Mbala had 32 points and 10 rebounds in a 106-91 loss to Nigeria.
La Salle coach Aldin Ayo does not expect the Green Archers to need an adjustment period when Mbala returns, as he expects "Big Ben" to integrate seamlessly with his teammates.
"Kung may darating, pang dagdag na lang 'yan. Hindi pwede na may darating, tapos baba kami. We don't do that. Maybe, we're on this level, but when Ben arrives, okay, aangat na lang kami na kasama siya," Ayo said after La Salle's 115-109 win over National University (NU) last Saturday.
"Wala na kaming gagawin masyadong adjustments. Hindi kami nag-adjust talaga doon sa pagkawala niya eh, kasi gusto namin na pagbalik niya, diretso kaagad," he further explained. "Andar kaagad."
Mbala arrived back in Manila late Sunday evening, and was welcomed by his teammates at the airport.
"We miss him," Ayo said of the big man, whose dominant Season 79 campaign fueled La Salle's run to the tile. "We're excited na pabalik na siya. Excited na kami maglaro ng buo."
"We're excited na siyempre, nandito na kami sa level na ganito, and darating siya. For sure, he's going to help us a lot," he added.
Even without Mbala, the Green Archers won their first two games of the season, including the game against NU where they climbed back from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter.
With Mbala in the fold, expect La Salle to elevate their level of play – especially since the reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player has improved by leaps and bounds, thanks to his AfroBasket stint.
Ayo has already revealed that he may move Mbala to a different position upon his return, even though the Cameroonian played as a center almost exclusively in Season 79.
"When Ben comes in, he can play the 5, 4, 3, or he can play even the 2," said Ayo, who did draw the line at trying Mbala at point guard.
"We have, I think, 110 schemes, 110 plays. We'll find a way na ipasok si Ben, kung paano siya mailalagay sa spot na magiging komportable siya," he added.
The Green Archers gun for a 3-0 record when they play the Adamson Soaring Falcons on Wednesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
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