Heralded Big East signee travels long road from Africa to Villanova
Mouphtaou Yarou (6-foot-9, 250 pounds) signed a Letter of Intent with Villanova
He is from the Republic of Benin -- a former French colony in West Africa
Yarou is the gem of Villanova's highly regarded 2009 recruiting class
ROCKVILLE, Md. -- He remembers the first recruiters.
It was the summer of 2002 on a dirt field in the Republic of Benin -- an arid nation along Africa's west coast -- and Mouphtaou Yarou, all of 12, caught their eyes. Seeking fresh-faced talent to play soccer at the Nantes Football School in France, the scouts evaluated Yarou from the sidelines. Impressed by his footwork, they announced over local radio that he was one of their targets. Shortly thereafter, through native middle men, they asked Yarou's father, Louis, an agricultural engineer, and mother, Awaou, an entrepreneur, if their son could leave home to train and play in western France.
"I wanted to go," said Yarou, who watched his older brother, Khader, leave the former French colony for a sports academy in Paris at 16, about six years earlier. "My parents said I was too young. They heard stories of kids who were promised opportunities and were never seen again."
Two years later, another proposal came, but Yarou's parents again declined. With Khader, who stands 6-foot-11, back home after injuring his left knee, Mouphtaou outgrew soccer and began training for basketball in the Cegtanguita School gym. Thinking his brother was good enough vie for an American college scholarship, Khader, who soured on the European route after poor treatment following his injury, researched the American path. A year and a half later, they secured an I-20 -- the document required to obtain a United States student visa, and found a school for him to attend.
At 18, Yarou, who spoke limited English, left for the Massanutten Military Academy in rural Woodstock, Va., last January. "He didn't say much," said Richard Moore, who met Yarou at the airport and coached him at Massanutten before taking an assistant coach position with George Washington University's women's basketball program last summer. "Later, he told me he had 12 siblings back home. He wanted to make the NBA."
Last Friday, 10 months after entering the country, Yarou, a 6-8, 250-pound power forward with a mid-range jumper, signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Villanova. Soft-spoken yet hard-bodied, he is the hidden gem of the Big East's best recruiting class, which ranks third in the nation behind North Carolina and Texas. "In America, there is a back-up plan if you don't reach the professional level," said Yarou, who watched the NBA on Canada Plus, a cable station that translates the games into French, in Benin. "It was a safer choice than what my brother went through."
The road to a Division I scholarship was not without bumps. Unaccustomed to a militaristic setting, he found the 5:45 a.m. wakeups unsettling and the pushups overly demanding at Massanutten. To jolt the student body, many of whom had been sent to the school for disciplinary reasons, the administration randomly pulled fire alarms at two or three o'clock in the morning. Outside in the winter cold, wearing nothing but their under garments, Yarou withstood the physical tests but grew homesick.
"He didn't understand why he had to do these things," said Johann Mpondo, a 6-8, 220-pound native of Douala, Cameroon, who roomed with Yarou and now is a freshman at the University of New Orleans. "He said he would transfer just to not have to do pushups."
Embarrassed by his clumsy English, Yarou kept to himself, but he found his footing on the court. Two-a-day practices were an everyday activity that ran from 3 p.m into the evening with a break from dinner. For the first time in his life, Yarou lifted weights -- often times three-to-four times per week. Eating meat instead of his typical vegetables and fruits from back home, he gained nearly 30 pounds.