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Mbala nearly missed it

Now it can be told. The MVP of the recent BLIA (Buddha’s Light International Association) Cup University Basketball Tournament almost didn’t make the trip from Manila to Taiwan. La Salle’s reigning UAAP MVP Ben Mbala wasn’t issued a visa until two days before the Green Archers left for the eight-team competition in Kaohsiung.

“Ben nearly got left behind,” said La Salle women’s volleyball team manager and basketball supporter Eric Ongkauko yesterday. “We reached out to MECO (Manila Economic and Cultural Office) and TECO (Taipei Economic and Cultural Office) for assistance. Luckily, Ben got his clearance on time. It was the same problem that another Cameroonian player had in last year’s BILA Cup and he didn’t get to go because of visa issues.”

Ben Mbala of DLSU.
Photo from @benmbala twitter account
Ongkauko, whose was an Archers basketball team manager before focusing full-time on the Lady Spikers, was instrumental in paving the way for La Salle’s participation in the seventh annual staging of the Taiwan joust organized by the Fo Guang Shan monastery. His wife Aileen’s mother Su Peng Uy was formerly the president of the Philippine chapter of Fo Guang Shan. “I found out that other UAAP schools were invited to participate in previous years so I asked my mother-in-law if maybe, La Salle could be invited this time,” said Ongkauko.  “The monastery sponsors cultural exchange programs every year and the Philippines always does well in singing and dancing competitions but never in basketball.

On the advice of Ongkauko’s mother-in-law, the Archers were invited to participate this year with La Salle’s Office of Sports Development head Nongnong Calanog receiving the official letter. The organizers took care of the air fare, board and lodging of 16 players and coaches. La Salle’s No. 1 benefactor San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo (Danding) Cojuangco and team manager Raffy Villavicencio accompanied the squad to Taiwan for the July 25-30 tournament. Master Kuang, the Taiwanese head abbot of the Philippine monastery, sat beside Cojuangco in the final between La Salle and the University of Lyon, France, last Sunday.

As for Mbala, all’s well that ends well. In Kaohsiung, Mbala averaged 27.8 points, shooting 60.3 percent from the floor and 73.9 percent from the line, over five games and was named MVP. He had an explosive debut, firing 37 points in La Salle’s first game, a 110-103 win over Chein Hsin University of Science and Technology.

La Salle went on to beat Vanguard University of California, 84-81 in overtime, Chung Chou University, 97-74, Tsinghua University of Beijing, 103-95 and Lyon, 93-74. The clean sweep duplicated the 5-0 record of McMaster University of Ontario, Canada, in last year’s tournament. It also put La Salle back on track in preparing for the next UAAP season after losing to UP, 87-79, in the Araw Ng Dabaw final last March and to San Beda, 75-72, in the Filoil Flying V Cup final last June.

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