DLSU’s Mbala eyed for Cameroon five
(The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – La Salle’s Ben Mbala was recently invited by Cameroon coach Lazare Adingono to join the national basketball team for pocket tournaments in Nanning on June 22-July 4 and in Shenyang on July 20-Aug. 2 but turned down the offer to play in China to focus on his studies and training for the coming UAAP season.

“It’s an honor to play for your country and of course, the opportunity to travel is always exciting,” said Mbala, the MVP in the just-concluded Filoil Flying V league. “I’ve been in contact with coach Lazare since I participated at the NBA Basketball Beyond Borders camp for Africa in Johannesburg in 2012. I had college basketball scholarship offers in the US that coach Lazare arranged but it was difficult to get a visa. I ended up in the Philippines and I couldn’t be happier. I’m playing the game I love and I’m getting a good education from an outstanding school.”

Mbala said the Cameroon national squad is undergoing a facelift with the entry of younger players. At the FIBA AfroBasket Championships in Tunisia last year, Cameroon placed ninth of 16 with a team made up of locals playing as imports in at least nine countries. In 2007, Cameroon finished second so the drop was significant, prompting calls for a revamp.

Mbala said San Beda College’s Cameroon player Arnaud Noah is also being recruited. Former Lyceum center Jean Victor Nguidjol, another Cameroonian, will likely be tapped. Nguidjol was a first round pick of the Austin Spurs in the NBA D-League draft last year. Missing in the national pool is the Los Angeles Clippers’ 6-7 forward Luc Mbah a Moute.

The letter of invitation to Mbala was sent by Cameroon Basketball Federation secretary-general Camille Njoh Ekitti via email last June 7. It asked for a medical certificate and Mbala’s weight, shirt size and shoe size. The invitation was to participate in a training camp in Yaounde, Cameroon, on June 15-20 and two tournaments in China, each for six games. Ekitti said the Federation was in the process of forming the national team for the 2017 FIBA AfroBasket. The invitation came with details of the team hotels in China, Wuxiang Resort in Nanning and Sheraton South City Hotel in Shenyang.

The UAAP Board has no existing rule on whether a foreign athlete in residence may be allowed to play for his or her national team without sanction. UAAP Board member Emmanuel Calanog of La Salle said he will bring up the issue for deliberation at the next meeting on June 22.

Bing Lui of the Shenzhen company Austiger Sports and Media Co. Ltd. initiated the communications with the Cameroon Basketball Federation by inviting national team manager Paul Fabrice Onana to send a 14-man squad to China for the two tournaments. The invitation came with an offer of an all-expense-paid trip for 18 persons, including four officials. Onana accepted the invitation and delegated Ekitti to contact possible players for the national team. Mbala’s performance in the Filoil Flying V must have caught Ekitti’s attention.

Mbala said he’s grateful to Adingono for reaching out. “I’ve always dreamed of playing for my country,” he said. “It’s like every Filipino player’s dream of playing for Gilas. Unfortunately, the invitation came at short notice. I was told I could miss training camp and just show up two or three days before each of the tournaments. I would’ve learned a lot from the competition because the national teams of Australia and Serbia and also a top Chinese pro team are participating. But without a clear direction from the UAAP Board, I won’t risk my eligibility to play this season. Besides, I would miss too many classes if I go and I need to be academically eligible to play.”

Mbala said if the UAAP Board and La Salle will allow it, he’d like to play for the Cameroon national team in the future. “At the moment, my focus is La Salle,” he said. “I owe a lot to my school, the Lasallian community and Ambassador (Danding) Cojuangco. I messed up last year and couldn’t play. I won’t let my school down again. When I was down, my school never gave up on me. I was given a second chance and I promised to make it up to my teammates, the alumni and our supporters.”

Mbala said playing for rookie head coach Aldin Ayo is a blessing. “Coach Aldin is a perfectionist,” he said. “Would you believe every night, he studies the video of the day’s practice? We run over 40 plays in offense. He’s transformed our team into a defense-oriented unit, aggressive on both ends. He wants us to work hard and to work together. He’s also very prayerful. Coach Glenn (Capacio) works with us in skills development and is responsible for the improvement of our bigs, particularly Abu (Tratter) and JBoy (Gob). Coach Siot (Tanquingcen) teaches us how to read what’s going on in a game while coach Louie (Gonzales) helps out coach Aldin every step of the way, especially in our trapping defense.”

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