BEN Mbala wanted to end his college career on his own terms. That's exactly the reason why the Cameroonian opted out of La Salle and turned professional in 2017.
"Having to go through what I went [through], I feel like it’s being put in the same situation again where some other people would decide my future, of what will happen," the former Green Archers star said in The Prospects Pod.
"For the second time, I was like, 'No, I’m not going to let that happen again.' I would be the one to decide for my future, not other people," he added.
Mbala had one more playing year left in La Salle. But questions on the status of his eligibility once again floated even before the next UAAP season could commence - the same problem he went through when he transferred from Southwestern University in Cebu to La Salle.
Moving to Taft in 2013, a two-year residency was imposed on Mbala by newly imposed elilgibility rules by the UAAP and he had to spend an additional year on the fringes after playing in a "ligang labas" in General Santos in 2015.
He wasn't able to suit up in the UAAP for the green-and-white until 2016, where he immediately showcased his talents and won the MVP award while also leading La Salle to the UAAP Season 79 title.
The following season, the 6-foot-8 forward said he faced the same eligibility uncertainty he dealt with in the past. He decided enough was enough.
"People from La Salle were telling me, 'You got to wait. There’s going to be a vote.' And I’m like, 'They can just reverse the rule over and over and over if they didn’t want me to play.' That happened in the past and I’m just going to be out there sitting and letting them decide for myself," he said.
Mbala, at that time, was already garnering offers overseas, with one arriving in the middle of the season in 2017.
"At that point, I had pro offers that I was saying no to, and I was like I just don’t want to be in a situation where I pass up on so many things, because I passed up on a team in Turkey. So it was a huge deal for me and that was during the playoffs. I was like, 'Sorry, I’m not the type of guy who just ditch some people. I got to finish my season.'
"So being over there and hearing all about the speculations if I’m going to play or not, if they will vote, I was like no, I can’t do this anymore."
And after the UAAP season, the Yaounde, Cameroon native ended his collegiate career and accepted an offer with Fuerza Regia in Mexico.
Although he made it clear that he doesn't regret his decision to leave La Salle and turn pro, Mbala believes he would have helped La Salle reclaim the title it lost to Ateneo the season prior had he stayed.
Hence, no Blue Eagles three-peat.
"I think so. The guys left when I left," Mbala said. "Like Ricci (Rivero), I felt he would be playing on a different level because he would have more responsibility. It will probably be me, Ricci, Aljun Melecio, and Andrei Caracut. Prince (Rivero) was already graduating and look at what Balti [Justine Baltazar] did, I think he was an All-Star and he improved his game."
Mbala said it's the system coach Aldin Ayo put in place that made the Green Archers the triumphant bunch they were in those two fruitful seasons which led to a championship and a runner-up finish, as well as a pair of UAAP MVP awards to his name.
"I’m telling you right now, it’s not about the size especially when you play in the UAAP. It was about the system and the system that we had. If you are slow, you can’t play," he said.
"It doesn’t matter how big or how tall you are, guys should be able to switch, to be mobile, to be able to sprint. It’s not a one-on-one game, people don’t understand that it’s five-on-five. Different plays, coaching staff. It’s just not I will take the rebound and do everything I want. No, it’s not that.
"There’s a play, there’s a system, and you probably look for a mismatch or somebody else, but if you have an advantage somewhere, why give me the ball if you can give it to someone else? At the end of the day it’s about winning games and I understood that when I went pro."
Things went south when Mbala left as Ayo and Brent Paraiso took their act to University of Santo Tomas, Rivero to University of the Philippines, and Ramil Tero to San Sebastian. Abu Tratter and Prince Rivero also graduated from the team.
But his impact could not be denied as he easily earns the distinction of being one of the best foreign student-athletes to ever suit up in the collegiate ranks here in the country.
The 24-year-old has since trotted the globe playing professionally, suiting up in Korea and now in France, where he currently plays for CSP Limoges, while also representing his home country Cameroon in the international stage.
Mbala may not have had the swansong players of his caliber definitely deserve, but he'll always consider the Philippines his second home.
"Playing there for years, the atmosphere, and the support, you guys made me who I am. The fans are the people who always motivates you and push you, send you a little message and tell you that, 'I know it was hard, but keep working because we have your back.' Things like that, you know I missed it," he said.
"I wouldn’t be who I am without you."