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New La Salle big Taane Samuel eager to fill void left by Mbala

MANILA, Philippines – Filling in for the void left by a two-time UAAP like Ben Mbala, who some consider to be the best foreign student-athlete to ever play college basketball in the Philippines, is no easy task.

But new La Salle Green Archers big man Taane Samuel is eager to accomplish that job. 

"Just having to fill the shoes that he left here, it's obviously going to be tough to fill in the expectations for everyone," said the 6-foot-8 recruit out of New Zealand, who was part of his country's Under-19 national team. 

"But obviously I'm going to do my best to keep those expectations up and to set the bar as high as I can."

So far, the 19-year-old Samuel has shown a lot of potential. The big man racked up consecutive double-double performances during La Salle's Filoil run and established himself as one of the team's go-to guys. 

"We got a lot of potential. I don't think anything's going to change this year with our placing," Samuel said about a DLSU team that looks different to last season's.

After making the finals in consecutive years, there are doubts whether or not the Green Archers can return to the UAAP Finals in Season 81. Aside from Mbala, La Salle has also lost the services of the Rivero brothers and head coach Aldin Ayo.

But the Green Archers still have a lot of talent on their roster. Returning are the likes of Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, and Aljun Melecio. Big men Leonard Santillan and Justine Baltazar are also expected to take on bigger roles.

"Hopefully we're going to go back to that final. We're definitely going to get into the Final Four. I'm feeling confident about this year with the team," said Samuel. 

The Kiwi also sees himself as one of the leaders of the team, despite being one of the new faces. 

"As a player, I kind of like to take leadership of the team and just make sure everything's good with everyone. Off the court, it's kind of the same. I just like checking on my teammates. I consider everyone as my brother or my family."

As usual, DLSU will face expectations of competing for the UAAP title. If La Salle manages to accomplish that, it will be because Samuel managed to play even beyond the expectations.

"I know there's a lot of expectation coming into this school, especially being one of the top schools in the Philippines, and all I gotta do now is just win a championship and do my best. If I set the bar high, just gotta keep pushing for it." – Rappler.com