Ben Mbala’s short yet dominant UAAP stint with De La Salle University was full of highlight-worthy plays.
One big example? The thunderous one-handed alley-oop jam that he pulled off during the Green Archers’ encounter versus Ateneo De Manila University to close out the first round of Season 79, his maiden campaign with the green-and-white.
DLSU — then up big already, 74-55 — had made a stop approaching the final two minutes of the third canto. Kib Montalbo got the ball and immediately passed it to Thomas Torres, who was already on the other side of the court.
Torres received the rock, dribbled it once, then threw a lob to a charging Mbala. The big man caught the ball with his outstretched arm and slammed it in hard — much to the delight of the La Salle faithful inside Mall of Asia Arena.
Torres said in an interview moments after the match — which the Green Archers won convincingly, 97-81 — that it was a “not-so-good pass”. On the other hand, the 6-foot-5 Mbala begged to differ and said that it was all fine.
About four years later, though, Mbala admitted on Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ The Prospects Pod, presented by SMART on Friday, that it really was a bad pass by the 5-foot-9 playmaker.
“It was a bad one,” said Mbala, drawing laughter from podcast hosts Ateneo all-time great and NLEX Road Warriors star Kiefer Ravena and seasoned sports scribes Randolph Leongson and Norman Riego.
Mbala explained that he usually catches lobs with both hands for security reasons. But Torres, he described, launched the pass “too backward”, making him catch the ball with his right arm extended before throwing it down.
“I was running behind him, and usually in my mind I want to catch it with two hands. But then he just threw it too backward and I had to reach for it. And as soon as I felt the ball in my hand, I just brought it back,” he said.
“It happened really fast. I’ve had a lot of alley-oops with Thomas, but that one, I got to tell you, I felt like it was a bad pass.”
Still, that sequence became one of the best UAAP highlights in recent memory. And for the Cameroonian forward, what made wonders in that play was the connection he has with Torres.
“He’s so used to throw me alley-oops. We do it in practice. If you don’t get to know your point guard, then you won’t have that connection, so numerous times during practice we did that,” Mbala said.
Mbala shared that he hadn’t been very close with Torres in the beginning, but he got to know him better and that, eventually, translated to the hardwood. Hence the execution of exciting plays like that one-handed catch-and-slam.
“In the beginning when I got to La Salle, he was the friend of the superstar, Jeron Teng, and AVO (Arnold Van Opstal). The little guy, he said, ‘rookie’ [to me] and I was like I’m not a rookie, I can show you what I can do,” he recalled.
‘But we got close because we both went up to Business Management. We were classmates in almost all of our classes. You imagine being classmates with someone from Monday to Thursday, and then have to do homework, working on your assignment all the time. Somehow you’ll create a bond. And then we decided to hang out not just in classes, but you know, hang out, going out together, doing stuff. That’s when I got to know him as a person.
“When I got to know the guy, he was really a cool guy. Plus, he was my point guard. You got to be smart. If you want those passes, you have to be friends with your point guard,” added the one-time UAAP gold medalist and two-time league MVP, smiling.