BEN Mbala has yet to make his official UAAP debut for La Salle, yet the Green Archers' future already looks secure with not just one but two young big men joining their fold in time for UAAP Season 80.
Pampanga giants Justin Baltazar and Jay Pangalangan have just passed the Alternative Learning System’s (ALS) Accreditation and Equivalency test from the Department of Education, making them eligible to skip the last two years of secondary education and join La Salle in the seniors division.
Both teenagers, Baltazar is listed at 6-7 while Pangalangan has been unofficially measured at 6-10.
“I am happy to inform you sa SPIN.ph first that Justin and Jayjay successfully passed their ALS exams, so they will be eligible next year to play na for La Salle sa UAAP men’s (tournament),” said Pineda, showing off a copy of the DepEd certification.
Pineda explained that under the UAAP rules, students who passed the ALS exam will need to sit out one year before they will be eligible to play in the country’s premier collegiate league.
“Sayang nga, hindi pa sila pwede lumaro, kasi may rules na sit-out muna sila nang isang taon. Di bale, enough time yun para mas mahasa pa ang mga bata,” said the basketball patron.
“Sana mabigyan ng pagkakataon at makapasok next year. Sa tingin ko naman, may pagkakataon na magkaroon ng chance (makapasok agad sa rotation) kasi in terms of height, advantage naman yung dalawa,” Pineda added.
Pineda bared that the two young centers have already been taking part in La Salle’s training camp for the past two months, and that both youngsters are already battle-ready considering that they were exposed to high caliber tournaments for teenagers in Pampanga and elsewhere in the country.
“Kumpiyansa ako sa naging training nila dito plus yung training pa na binibigay ng La Salle ngayon. Tingin ko yung dalawang bata panlaban yun,” said Pineda, who also handle the careers of PBA stars Arwind Santos, Calvin Abueva, and Ian Sangalang.
“Alam naman kasi namin ang training program para mahasa 'yung talent ng isang bata, kaya once may nasuyod kaming matatangkad dito sa Pampanga, pinapakuha agad namin para maisama sa training pool,” he added.
Pineda’s longtime sports associate and former San Sebastian Stags coach Allan Trinidad declared that both Baltazar and Pangalangan underwent thorough training and rigid physical strengthening.
“Yang Baltazar, beterano yan, best player ng championship sa UAAP juniors so malaking tulong (ibibigay nyan sa La Salle). Yung Jayjay Pangalangan, best player at best center ng Palarong Pambansa,” said Trinidad who was the coach of the Central Luzon team that finished second to Southern Tagalog in the last Palarong Pambansa.
Trinidad also dissected the strengths of the two cagers.
“Baltazar has speed, defensive skills at on-court smarts. Scoring, rebound, depensa, shot blocks, kumpleto yan saka very versatile at agile yan,” he said of the 6-foot-7 former star of the NU Bullpups in the UAAP Juniors.
“Yung Pangalangan, may depensa tapos malaki pa. Nahasa ko na yan, matigas na yan. Nag-training kami dyan nang husto tapos puro weights pa siya sa La Salle ngayon. Nung una mabagal yan, pero napapatakbo na namin yan, binabad namin sa iba’t ibang liga yan,” Trinidad said in describing Pangalangan, who many believe could reach seven feet in next the few years.
“Huling sukat ko dyan 6-10 na yan eh! Maraming (teams) ang naghahangad sa dalawa na yan, swerte na rin yung dalawa, napunta sila sa La Salle,” he added.
Pineda, however, would rather not put any more pressure on his two young players, considering that they still have more than a year to prepare themselves for the bright lights of the UAAP.
“Hindi naman masasabi na katatakutan agad yung La Salle pagpasok nung dalawa, pero I think hindi tayo madedehado in terms of height. Hindi na pwedeng sabihing dehado tayo in terms of height,” said the son of Pampanga governor Lilia Pineda.
“Pero definitely mas marami pa ring magaling at bata pa itong mga bata natin pero sa future plans ng La Salle, nagre-ready tayo for six years (program),” he added.