CEBU Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (Cesafi) officials and coaches expressed mixed emotions over the recent departure of top draw and Southwestern University star Ben Mbala to the UAAP in a development expected to drastically change the landscape of Cebu's collegiate basketball scene.
University of Visayas coach Felix Belano said Mbala's decision to move to Manila to join De La Salle is a "big loss" to the league, adding the Cameroonian slotman has become the benchmark for all big men in the league who aspire to improve their skills.
“It is not a good thing for Cebu basketball ang pag-transfer ni Mbala sa La Salle because siya na ang naging sukatan ng mga big men dito sa Cesafi,” the former PBA player from Davao said. “Kaya ang players, pursigido to work harder to compete with him and improve on their skills as well.”
“Kaya it's a big loss for the Cesafi. Pero ganyan talaga ang basketball, kapag may umaalis, may pumapalit din,” he added of Mbala, who, ironically, denied Belano's Green Lancers of a 10th Cesafi title in 12 years when he scored 25 points in their 73-72 win over UV in Game Five of the Finals last year.
League commissioner Felix Tiukinhoy praised the 6-foot-7 player who became the premier big man in the league following the departure of Greg Slaughter for Ateneo. Mbala, he said, also helped pave the way for foreigners to showcase their skills in the Visayas league.
The Cesafi, considered the top collegiate league outside Manila, now has three foreign players in UV's Steve Cedric Akomo and new recruit Mike Harry Nzeusseu Djountcheu, and another SWU Cameroonian in Justin Aboude.
“That is good for Mbala especially for his studies. For Cesafi, there will be a little setback on the momentum in our league as Mbala has created a lot of supporters and fans but we have to move on,” the longtime commissioner said.
In the wake of SWU’s recent success with Mbala, Tiukinhoy has encouraged the different school owners to tap foreign talent for their respective squads.
“I have been convincing the school owners to go the path of getting at least one 6'8 or 6'10 foreign player as we don't have that size of homegrown player anymore,” said Tiukinhoy.
Cebu Institute of Technology-University athletic director Alex dela Torre welcomed the change in landscape after Mbala's exit.
“First off, we should be happy for him as he will be able to further his career in basketball," he said. "But for Cebu basketball, I don't think it's a loss as I am against foreigners playing here. In fact, the playing field is no longer level for us. Let's develop local talents instead.”