Mbala, fellow freshmen lead La Salle's Recruiting

By Parisa Bastani Daily Pennsylvanian

January 18, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Given his humble beginnings in Cameroon, La Salle freshman Yves Mekongo Mbala had reason to think he might never start for a Division I basketball program.

But after losing three of five starters from last year - including former 76ers forward Steven Smith - that is exactly the role that La Salle coach John Giannini has cut out for him.

"We only have a few players returning from last year with any experience, so freshmen were going to have to play just by the necessity," Giannini said. "He's advanced for a freshman in terms of maturity and how hard he plays, so he's been a logical choice to play a critical role early."

Mbala has started in fourteen games so far and has emerged as the team's third-leading scorer, netting 9.1 points per contest for an Explorers team that, by Giannini's admission, is at the beginning of the rebuilding process.

Mbala is one of a capable incoming crop that also features phenom Rodney Green. Green has started this season on a scoring frenzy, and just barely trails La Salle's Darnell Harris - the Explorers' leading scorer and go-to offensive threat - in points.

After several players left the program, Giannini has been charged this year with reconstructing a team that exceeded expectations last season.

Mbala, along with his classmates, seem to have provided the spark that the Explorers were looking for in what they all knew would be a difficult year.

Most recently, Mbala came within two rebounds of a double-double, with a perfect shooting performance that included an explosive dunk off of a rebound in the Explorers' win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Also playing along side Mbala is friend and high school teammate Ruben Guillandeaux.

The freshman guard committed to La Salle shortly after Mbala, and although he's not sure whether his decision to play for the Explorers influenced Guillandeaux, Mbala has his suspicions.

"We were good friends in high school and we still are," Mbala said. "He doesn't admit that me coming here was part of his decision, but I think it might have been."

The adjustment to the rigors of college basketball was difficult for him, but Guillandeaux's presence has eased the transition and allowed Mbala to make an impact right away.

"The level is much harder in college, the expectations are much higher," Mbala said. "It's good to have Ruben because I have someone I'm close to and I can talk with him about things, hang out with him."

Mbala's offense has improved already this season, but it is with his team-high 5.5 rebounds per game that the guard has made his mark.

Giannini was impressed with how Mbala has managed playing at a very high intensity level - what he believes is the toughest part of the adjustment to college basketball.

And considering his accomplishments already, Giannini expects big things from the freshman.

"Yves only been here in the States playing serious basketball for three years, so he's going to continue to get a lot better," Giannini said. "He's nowhere near his potential yet."

(C) 2007 Daily Pennsylvanian via CSTV U-WIRE

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