By: Jerome Lagunzad
Without prized reinforcement Ben Mbala, defending champion La Salle looks vulnerable when it takes on Far Eastern University on Sunday in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80 basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Mbala, the reigning UAAP MVP, has been recalled to play for Cameroon in the 2017 AfroBasket and his return depends on how deep his team will go in the tournament.
Steady guard Kib Montalbo remains confined in an undisclosed hospital and is doubtful to suit up for the Archers’ first game.
Rookies Josh Gonzales and Ramil Tero are also racing against time to get into top form after dealing with respective injuries.
Despite the handicap, La Salle coach Aldin Ayo is unfazed.
“We’re undermanned right now but we are going to do our best,” he said. “It will be different because we’re still adjusting playing without Ben.”
The 6-foot-7 Mbala might also sit down when La Salle battles National University on Sept. 16.
Without Mbala, the Archers will have to rely on co-skipper Prince Rivero, his younger brother Ricci, Aljun Melecio, Andrei Caracut, Justine Baltazar and Abu Tratter to play bigger roles following the departure of ace forward Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins and Thomas Torres due to graduation.
“I’m expecting ‘yung mga second-stringers ko last year na mag-respond sa bigger roles nila ngayon,” shared Ayo. “We have a young team. Katulad ng sinabi ko, sana mag-respond sila dahil mas malaki na ‘yung responsibility nila ngayon.
“As much as possible, we want to be unpredictable. All of the guys are capable of playing so kung sino ‘yung mainit, doon kami pupunta. Not necessarily na pupunta kami kay Ben, or kay Ricci or kay Aljun. Basta kung sino ‘yung maganda ‘yung gising, siya ang pupuntahan.”