The defending champion De La Salle Green Archers opened their title-retention bid in style, beating a pesky Far Eastern University Tamaraws crew, 95-90 in their UAAP Season 80 opening game.
Even without reigning league MVP Ben Mbala, who is serving his home country of Cameroon in the on-going 2017 FIBA AfroBasket Championship in Tunisia, La Salle came out firing, dominating FEU from the opening tip.
It was the stellar play of La Salle’s backcourt which led them to an opening week victory. Aljun Melecio tallied a career-high 29 points, torching FEU in the first half. At one point, Melecio was outscoring the Tamaraws by himself. Kib Montalbo and Andrei Caracut picked up where Melecio left off, and the Green Archers prevailed. The team made 11 triples in the game.
La Salle winning like this without the best player in the UAAP could only make you think of, what more if he returns? And that is not where it ends.
Green Archers head coach Aldin Ayo said this after the win over the Tamaraws.
“Si Ben, we always tell him to do new things. Kasi yung bata, grabe yung work ethic. We might convert him to a three spot when he comes back. He can play two, three, four, five for us now, because of the skill set that he has developed.”
Wait, Aldin Ayo said what? Mbala, already the most unstoppable force in the UAAP and its reigning season MVP, will be converted to a small forward?
Of course, this isn’t just a random thought that popped out of Ayo’s mind. This is well-justified. La Salle, which is already playing modern basketball with lots of player and ball movement, is looking to elevate their game even further.
Let’s go back to the AfroBasket competition, where Mbala is one of the leading players of his squad. Cameroon finished with a 2-1 slate in the group phase and is moving on the the next round. Mbala is a consistent starter, and is averaging close to a double-double with 18.3 PPG and 9 RPG.
But the more intriguing detail? Mbala is shooting above 31 percent from three-point area. It’s a small sample, but Mbala has drained five of his 16 total attempts from long distance. The 6-foot-8 big has not taken a single three-point attempt in Season 79. That’s a pretty decent rate here in the Philippines. Heck, some shooting guards can’t even crack that percentage from deep.
Surprised? For all his dominance, what Mbala is showing in the UAAP level is just a part of his entire arsenal. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s simple: Mbala is playing the five spot in the UAAP level because of his tremendous size. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that.
At the same time, that is the only thing keeping him off doing some of the things that knows he can also do on the floor. His role with La Salle is what makes him “limited” for a lack of a better term. Yep, you read that right: the most dominant force in the UAAP is not yet even showing his entire repertoire in this particular level, only because he doesn’t have to, given his role.
But the AfroBasket has allowed Mbala to use some of those skills that he has been possessing the entire time although he hasn’t had the opportunity to show in the UAAP. Of coure, Mbala is being joined by bigger teammates there, and they are battling even tougher competition.
Not only is Mbala shooting threes, he is also putting the ball down on the floor, driving, dishing out kick out passes, playing the passing lanes on defense, and a lot more.
Now if Ayo can actually convert him into a versatile player who will be able to do things more freely inside the court when he returns? Well… good luck to the rest of the UAAP.
Photos from FIBA.com