Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Get To Know His Name: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute


Bruins Freshman Mbah a Moute An Impressive Find

By Dan Weber
The Press-Enterprise
Originally published 1/28/06 in The Press-Enterprise
(Reprinted with permission)

EUGENE, ORE. - His family has a home in Paris.

His father heads the labor ministry in Cameroon.

He's a multilingual, multi-sport African prince who excelled in tennis and soccer at boarding school.

And the day Luc Richard Mbah a Moute proved he could be a consistent force for UCLA came in only his third year of basketball.

"It was 120 degrees and humid," Bruins coach Ben Howland said Friday, recalling the day in 2004 when he realized the freshman standout would be a special player.

Howland remembered sweating in the sauna of a practice gym at Florida's Montverde Academy, amazed as Mbah a Moute went strong every second of the two hours his high school coach worked him.

"No player in California has ever been under those conditions," Howland said, starting to sweat as he thought about it. "I was sold."

Howland was sure Mbah a Moute, discovered by UCLA assistant Ernie Zeigler, wasn't ranked high enough as the No. 15 player in Florida, and not recruited enough. He just wasn't sure how much Mbah a Moute had been underestimated.

But not even Howland imagined that his 6-foot-7 forward would average nine rebounds, best in the nation for a freshman and No. 2 in the Pac-10. Or that Mbah a Moute would lead first-place UCLA (16-4, 6-2 Pac-10) in rebounding in 19 of 20 games with six double-doubles.

Mbah a Moute's teammates have been equally impressed.

"He doesn't even know how good he is yet," said guard Jordan Farmar, who described him as "relentless" and "tough-minded."

"He's one of the leaders on this team," sophomore forward Arron Afflalo said. "His attitude is something special."

Senior center Ryan Hollins realized how good Mbah a Moute could be in their summer games. But there's something else that doesn't show up in the scorebook: his temperament. He doesn't act or play or think like a freshman, Hollins said.

"He's way better there than we thought he could be," Hollins said.

And he seems to be having fun. Just ask the students at Oregon's McArthur Court who sit so close to the floor they could dribble the ball for opponents in their pregame layup line.

The Ducks fans challenged the Bruins freshman during Thursday's game. But as the jawing started, you could see Mbah a Moute giggling and having fun with them.

"They were trying to get on me but they couldn't pronounce my name," he said.

So they gave up.

"That was a great atmosphere," he said, hopping out of the UCLA locker room with two ice packs per leg after posting team highs of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 34 minutes.

His best game thus far?

"You can say it's my best game. I did some good things getting the ball inside," he replied.

After watching the game tape Friday, Howland said, "I think he can be pretty good" with a wink. And that would make his mother happy.

With his father, it's all about getting a UCLA education, Howland said.

But his mother came over in the summer to see him and "she knows it's about basketball, too," Howland said. "It's definitely about basketball."

(photo credit: Kurt Miller / The Press-Enterprise)

You can find Dan Weber's regular UCLA basketball coverage at The Press-Enterprise .


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