Just three days before the Christmas of 2017, Ben Mbala made an announcement that left the Lasallian community shocked, to say the least.
The Cameroonian cager took to Twitter and made it known that he would be foregoing his final playing year, ending his two-year stay in Taft Avenue that saw him win a UAAP gold medal and two MVP awards.
“After five years, two incredible UAAP seasons, and, of course, countless unforgettable memories, it is with a heavy heart that I announce that the time has come for me to move on from De La Salle University and the Green Archers.”
Mbala would then turn professional, signing with Fuerza Regio of the Liga Nacional Baloncesto de Profesional of Mexico. The ball club from Monterrey announced his signing on the day of his announcement.
And that seemed to answer the questions regarding his decision to leave the Green Archers. But the reason was much deeper.
Just days after La Salle failed to defend its crown against rivals Ateneo de Manila University in Season 80, reports circulated that the UAAP board was set to revive its “five seasons for seven years” rule for Season 81.
The said rule puts a cap on an athlete’s playing years in the collegiate league following their graduation from high school. And that put Mbala’s status for the following season under question, since he had served three years of residency and two years of eligibility.
The board was set to tackle that issue prior to next season. But instead of waiting to learn whether he would be allowed to play or not, the 6-foot-5 forward simply decided to go and take his talents to the pro ranks.
“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,” he told Tiebreaker Vodcasts’ The Prospects Pod, presented by SMART.
“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,” he added in the podcast hosted by Kiefer Ravena and seasoned journalists Randolph Leongson and Norman Riego.
A transferee from Southwestern University in 2013, Mbala said that people from DLSU were encouraging him to wait for that board meeting. But he decided otherwise, instead making the choice to leave.
“People from DLSU were telling me, ‘You gotta wait, there’s gonna be a vote’ and all that. And I’m like, they can just reverse the rule over and over if they don’t want me to play. I’m just not gonna be out there sitting and letting them decide for myself,” he said.
By that time, Mbala said he was already garnering offers from pro teams — an offer from an overseas team actually came his way while Season 80 was in play. Moreover, he just did not want to pass up on such opportunities again.
“At that point already, I had pro offers that I was saying ‘no’ to. And I was like, ‘Man, I just don’t want to be on the situation where I pass up on so many things’, because I passed up on a team, Galatasaray from Turkey,” he said.
“I don’t know… I think it even went to your coach in Ateneo, what’s his name, Tab [Baldwin]? They asked him about me, so it was a huge deal for me. That was during the playoffs. I was like, man, sorry, I’m not gonna turn my back and just ditch on people.
“I gotta finish my season. So being over there and hearing all about the speculations if I’m going to play or not, they will vote, and I was like, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore.’ First of all, it’s very stressful,” he added.
That decision, safe to say, paid off nicely for Mbala as he has been thriving as a pro since. After Mexico, he went to France and suited up for Chorale Roanne of the LNB Pro A, before going to Korea to play for Seoul Samsung Thunders.
He nearly played in the PBA with the Magnolia Hotshots in 2018 but ultimately returned to France. There, he signed with Aix Maurienne Savoie Basket, which sees action in the French league’s second division.
Later, though, he would see himself back in the LNB Pro A, signing with Limoges CSP, for which he currently plays.
Mbala has also become a key part of Cameroon’s national team, which he first played for in 2017 that caused him to miss a few games in Season 80. Last February, he was part of the Cameroonian squad that saw action in the 2021 FIBA AfroBasket Qualifiers.
He may have taken matters on his own hands during that time of uncertainty, but Mbala will forever remain grateful to La Salle for everything that the school has done for him.
“What else can I say? Thanks to La Salle for giving me the opportunity.”