SHORT as Ben Mbala's tenure in La Salle was, he did make sure that his run was a memorable one.
And the most glaring highlight of his two-year run with the Green Archers? What else than his rim-rattling one-handed tomahawk slam in his first taste of Ateneo-La Salle action.
Already leading big, 74-55, the Cameroonian delivered an emphatic exclamation in the two side's first meeting in UAAP Season 79 in 2016, finishing a thunderous alley-oop pass from Thomas Torres that sent everyone inside the Mall of Asia Arena to their feet.
Yet looking back, Mbala admits that the highlight everybody remembers really wasn't what he wanted it to be.
"The highlight happened really fast. I had a lot of alley-oop with Thomas, but that one, I going to be honest, that was a bad pass," he told The Prospects Pod.
"I was running behind him. Usually in my mind, I want to catch it two hands. Usually, I wanted to take it two hands and securely dunk it. And then it was too backward, I had to reach for it, and as soon as I felt the ball in my hands, I just brought it back."
Tough of a position as it was for Mbala to finish the highlight, he couldn't really hold any grudges against Torres as those things, he acknowledged, happen.
"He’s so used to throw me alley-oops and we do it in practice," he said of Torres, who was also his classmate in the bulk of his classes as he took business management in Taft. "If you don’t get to know your point guard, then you won’t have that connection, so numerous times during practice we did that."
Also, La Salle coasted through that rivalry game over Ateneo, 97-81, as the Green Archers asserted themselves as the league's top dogs on their way to the crown.
It wasn't the only thing the 6-foot-8 forward got from his guards, with Mbala also crediting Kib Montalbo for his growth as a player and as a leader -- one that came in handy as he traverses the world as a professional.
"Kib was the guy who calms me down and always gives me advice. He pushed me to play defense on everyone else: guards, point guards, big guys, because the thing you see him do during games, he does that to me every practice. And I would be so mad when I try to post, he’ll come and steal the ball, I will not see him coming, but he was somehow helping me to play better," he said.
Mbala even remembered moments where Montalbo will be on his ears and pushing him constantly.
"During the preseason, we go to Rizal (Memorial Stadium) and Kib Montalbo and maybe Abu Tratter were the only ones to keep up with me during sprint. And you know, I was the person who likes to compete, and Kib was so fast that he will frustrate me to like do more and more, trying to push myself and I was like, 'I couldn’t let this happen.' Like, he cannot be faster than me. I will push myself to the limit," he said.
"Even during practice, I was the guy with the hot temper. You know you want to do so good, so well that we start pushing everyone else. A guy like Abu, you can tell him, 'Man, come on. You're a man, move your ass,' but some other guys you got to be a little bit gentle and take them on the side, talk to them differently. And I’m lucky that Kib was there because he taught me that. He taught me how to communicate with my teammates, how to get across messages he taught me that and I was lucky to have guy like that."
Those exchanges did bear fruit with Mbala winning a pair of UAAP MVPs.
"I’m just glad to have guys like that to push me over and over," said the CSP Limoges forward, grateful for the development he got from his La Salle peers, especially Montalbo.
"He’s a friend and a close friend. Most of my teammates in La Salle, I’m still very close to them especially Kib. I’d like to say thank you to him for pushing me so much. I wouldn’t probably here or be at this level if wasn’t for guys like Kib."