What if Ben Mbala played 4 UAAP seasons for La Salle?

Make no mistake about it, Ben Mbala is a transcending figure that left a remarkable legacy in the collegiate game.

His stellar performance in his two years playing for the De La Salle Green Archers has raised the bar on recruiting foreign-student athletes. This paved the way for the arrival of “super imports” that could do more than just being a tall presence inside the court. Starting with Mbala, the last 4 UAAP season MVPs are foreigners.

Unfortunately, we never got to see him go up against the likes of Angelo Koame or Bright Akhueti in what was supposed to be his final season in 2018.

In a recent podcast, Big Ben explained on his decision to cut his collegiate career short due to uncertainties as to whether he would be still eligible to play in UAAP season 71. Just a few weeks after La Salle’s failed title defense, the league board was seriously considering to bring back the old rule in which a player must complete his eligibility within 7 years after graduating from high school. Such provision was previously scrapped to mitigate the lack to incoming college freshmen during the transition to K-12.

If said provision was enforced once again, Mbala would not be able to play. The Carmeroonian center arrived in the Philippines back in 2011 and first enrolled in Southwestern University in Cebu before his move to La Salle.

The problem is that there is no definite date as to when the board would deliberate on this matter. Historically, changes in any rules can be made as early as the beginning of the year or weeks prior to the start of the new season.

But Ben would have none of it. Recalling a similar incident when news broke out that he will be taking his talents to Taft, he decided to accept an immediate opportunity to play professional basketball overseas rather than having to go to a grueling wait.

“Having to go through what I went [through], I felt like I was going through the same situation again where some other people would decide for my future, on what will happen with me,” For the second time, I was like, ‘No I’m not gonna let that happen’. I want to be able to decide for my future, not other people,”

Mbala could have played 4 seasons for the Green and White. But a sudden rule change made prior to his arrival in Manila not only cut down his eligibility eventually, it also dramatically changed the fortunes of the Archers, who after 4 years of irrelevance have already laid the groundwork for another championship dynasty with Jeron Teng and Big Ben as their cornerstones.

Whether they admit it or not, the rule of extending the residency of foreign-student athletes from 1 to 2 years was an obvious knee-jerk reaction to Big Ben’s inevitable dominance in the UAAP. Many knew what a special player he was, already making headlines playing for the Cobras in the CESAFI. Adding him to an emerging Green Archers squad would be an overkill.

Imagine the potential outcome had he managed to suit up for La Salle beginning in season 77 (2014).

Back then, the Green Archers were the defending champions and with an intact roster, were heavily-favored to repeat. But alas, things did not go as planned. Having Mbala in that 2014 squad would have addressed any flaws and areas of weakness that they had. In all likelihood, the team would not even be in a situation of having to duel FEU in a virtual best-of-three final four series. They would have easily entered the finals and go up against either the Tamaraws, NU (Whom they beaten twice in the elimination round) or Ateneo (Then a one-man show with no foreign player). Barring any injury, it would have been a back-to-back championship season.

And the rest follows. Him playing in a “ligang labas” (if he still did) would no longer matter as his residency has already been established. Ben would have made a big difference in 2015. Instead of having of having him man the middle, the Green Archers were a donut team that season and failed to advance to the semis. Then there was 2016 and 2017 would have been his final year in the UAAP.

So how many championships the Green Archers could have won with Mbala? Well if we look at 2014 and 2015, the two seasons that he could have already played, his presence would have given the team a huge upside – an additional scoring threat aside from Teng. So given that, the probability of La Salle winning those seasons is definitely high. So along with the 2016 season that they really won, that’s 3 championships. Add the 2013 title and we have a 4-peat. And if the endgame breaks went their way in the 2017 finals? Damn it!!! That’s all I can say.

After everything that has happened, it can be said that it wasn’t a friendly environment for Big Ben right from the start. Even some media articles back then were portraying him as some nuisance to Philippine basketball rather than a challenge for local players to level up their game. Funny is that such sentiments appear to no longer exist when he left, even if foreign players are still winning the season MVP award.

You know what sucks more? The aforementioned eligibility rule never returned even until now. But at that point, we cannot blame him for choosing to go pro. Turns out, his decision paid off as he is doing well playing in various leagues overseas.

Would Mbala played out his final year if there was a guarantee that he would be eligible? I would think so. The guy is a fierce competitor and he would have wanted another shot at winning another championship for the university.

Nevertheless, he will forever be grateful to the Lasallian community for supporting him all throughout his stay.

“What else can I say? Thanks to La Salle for giving me the opportunity.”