|Losing Ben Mbala was not a big deal for Louie Gonzales and La Salle, after seeing Taane Samuel (pictured) and Brandon Bates coming up big in their debut. Rick Johnsen Dela Cruz/Dugout Philippines|
By Kevin Estrada
SAN JUAN -- Rebuilding? What rebuilding?
It was a sly reply for La Salle against its naysayers when the Green Archers render all the drama in the off-season irrelevant with a gritty win over State U to open their campaign in the FilOil-Flying V Premier Cup last Saturday night.
For Louie Gonzales, it was a huge character boost for them who had all the negativity hurled at them at the end of the UAAP season, especially bombing out with broken arrows in their PCCL campaign, which was emphatically answered by a total team effort against a loaded one like UP.
"Bonus lang. Still it's a work in progress," he said after the game, in which their big men took center stage as they are gauging their progress within the team before their performance in the court.
Aside from the 16 points of Justine Baltazar, the spotlight was on their new recruits in Australian-born Brandon Bates and Kiwi Taane Samuel who did their homework on both ends of the floor.
"I'm not putting a lot of pressure dun sa dalawa. This is the first time they played away from home," Gonzales added, as Bates and Samuel, who stands at 6'8" each complement the veteran duo of Justine Baltazar and Leonard Santillan to make it a fatal four-way tower of doom in Taft Avenue.
But how does it feel for the pair from Down Under compared to the one and only Ben Mbala? The ex-deputy to Aldin Ayo says only time will tell.
"They have to establish themselves. Si Ben [Mbala] papasok pa lang sa court, yung presence niya nararamdaman mo na."
With all the adjustments in the game, especially playing against smaller opposition, both had pondered what to improve after their first game in the Philippines, especially almost shutting down Bright Akhuetie from his normal game.
"I'm still bit disappointed myself for not getting as many rebounds," Bates said after hauling a measly three boards that contradicted his height.
"As soon as we started training, we need to be physical and we have to be ready for the physicality that will come towards us," added the former New Zealand youth international.
Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada