DJ Mbenga said it was the chance to get a taste of Philippine basketball - and not about anything else - that convinced him to accept the chance to play for Barako Bull in the PBA.
“They told me about a local Philippine team (which) needs somebody like me. The challenge is there, and told me what I can expect. I saw it as a challenge, man, so I came here, to give my best and just play and enjoy basketball … and make something happen (for Barako Bull)," Mbenga said.
The 32-year-old Congolese-Belgian arrived on Tuesday afternoon and immediately buckled down to work in a closed-door conditioning session, sweating it out for one hour under the watchful eyes of Barako Bull coach Bong Ramos and consultant Rajko Toroman.
Here's the video of Mbenga's first practice session with Barako Bull.
There were reports that the seven-footer has not played competitively for the past six months but Mbenga was quick to dispel fears he is way off his game shape, assuring that he will be in tip-top condition when he makes his debut against Petron on Sunday.
“I am professional, I know what to do to get myself back in shape,” Mbenga guaranteed.
Mbenga said even the hot weather doesn't pose a problem for him, saying: "“I am sweating a lot, (but) I am an African, so you should know I’m used to this climate."
Three other teams - Alaska, Barangay Ginebra, and Globlaport - had tried but failed to sign the eight-year NBA veteran for the Commissioner's Cup reportedly because of his steep asking price, but Mbenga insisted he chose Barako Bull not because of the contract it offered.
“I chose Barako Bull because it has a challenge, they need to make the playoffs, so that’s something I want to do. And it came across like I want to go somewhere, just to play. It’s not about the contract. It’s about playing and enjoying basketball and make something happen," he said.
Even Energy Cola team manager Raffy Casyao bared to Spin.ph that the George Chua-owned franchise signed Mbenga to a "reasonable deal" after about a week of negotiations with Mbenga’s handlers.
Casyao bared it was the European agent of the two-time NBA champion cager that initiated the negotiations.
“Actually, I contacted our import agent, kasi we wanted to address our skid, six-game losing streak na eh,” said Casyao. “When we heard his name, our ‘thought bulb’ suddenly flashed."
"And then all of a sudden, we were already agreeing on a very reasonable deal,” he added.