WHO needs a Ben Mbala when you have triple towers at work?
A new-look La Salle showed up more menacing up front, which a stark contrast from what people expected after Mbala left the team.
The Green Archers paraded their twin towers in rookies Kira Samuel and Brandon Bates, then got a big boost when sophomore Justin Baltazar stepped up big time as the three quickly made their presence felt down low and made life difficult for Bright Akhuetie, University of the Philippines’ biggest acquisition.
Samuel, a Kiwi slotman, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes of play. Once a New Zealand representative in the FIBA Under-19 World Championships, the 6-foot-8 center gave La Salle an inside-out game.
His fellow rookie frontline partner, Bates, came off the bench and produced nine points in 18 minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-9 Fil-Australian also added a rebound.
Samuel and Bates didn’t have problems about physicality while playing their first game in the Filoil Preseason Cup. In fact, they’re used to playing this brand of game.
“I don’t want to put a lot of pressure sa dalawa. Hindi lang naman yung adjustment nila sa Pilipinas yung kailangan nilang pag-aralan but also yung game. Kasi nga Kira is from New Zealand and Brandon is from Australia. They’ve been away from home. Ang dami pa nilang pinagdadaanan. Pero good thing, nag-deliver pa rin sila,” said La Salle coach Louie Gonzales.
“Our twin towers need to establish themselves. Si Ben (Mbala), papasok pa lang sa court, yung presence niya nararamdaman mo na. Pero, I believe, in time, mas nakita natin yung presence nila.”
For Bates, contributing on the defensive end is what he is really concerned in doing more.
“I just want to go out there and do my thing. I’m still a bit disappointed on myself not getting much rebounds, but it’s always good to go out there. I know UP has become a more talented team now with Bright Akhuetie,” added Bates.
Bates only grabbed three rebounds and was even outrebounded by his teammate, guard Andrei Caracut (who pulled down six), but the Fil-Australian frontliner was able to hold his own against Akhuetie.
Akhuetie, plucked two years ago by UP from Perpetual Help, was held down to just 12 markers, although the Nigerian center was able to grab 15 boards.
Samuel, on the other hand, expected a highly-physical brand of play from the Filipinos and it’s something he prepared for.
“Coach told us to be ready to be physical. This is a new environment, especially in the Philippines, they told us we’re gonna be banged up,” added Samuel. “I know I am (used to physicality).”
But while the two new big men made their presence felt right away, it was actually Baltazar, a 6-foot-8 center, who shone the brightest on both ends of the court.
Baltazar led La Salle’s production with 16 points and six rebounds while also blocking two shots and a steal.
Images from: Ralph Salcedo