DOUBTERS have already started dismissing DJ Mbenga as a dud, but Red Bull coach/consultant Rajko Toroman expects the highly regarded former Los Angeles Laker to redeem himself when the Energy Cola play Rain or Shine on Friday night.
Mbenga was far from impressive in a 14-point, 12-rebound debut in the Energy Cola's 77-88 loss to Petron on Sunday - a below-par performance which Toroman insisted he already expected considering it was the seven-footer's first competitive game in three months.
“I expected that kind of production for his first game because he’s coming from the US and he didn’t play (competitive) basketball for three months,” Toroman told Spin.ph.
“But with a few more days to adjust to the weather and the team’s system, I expect a better game from DJ,” he added.
The 32-year-old Mbenga, who won two championships with the Lakers from 2009 in an eight-year NBA career, planed in a week ago to replace the hardworking Evan Brock, who averaged 21.1 points, 16 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.6 blocks during his stint with Barako Bull.
Since Sunday’s painful loss, Toroman explained they have been working closely with the Congolese-Belgian national to whip him into shape and fast-track his adjustment to the team’s complicated system as Barako Bull makes a last-ditch bid for a place in the playoffs.
To redeem himself, however, Mbenga will have to outplay Rain or Shine import Bruno Sundov - at 7-foot-3 one of the most intimidating among this season's batch of imports.
“We have one more practice to prepare and we will do everything we can to make sure DJ is in a much better shape when we play Rain or Shine,” Toroman said.
Barako Bull, though, will now be without veteran guard Jonas Villanueva, who has been ruled out for the remainder of the conference due to his nagging knee injury, leaving the playmaking chores to Josh Urbiztondo, seldom-used Celino Cruz and rookie Eman Monfort.