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Luc Richard Mbah a Moute's parents have never seen him play a game in person. When Mbah a Moute, a native of Cameroon who came to the U.S. in 2003 to play high school ball, helped UCLA reach the Final Four last spring, his folks didn't even watch it on television. It wasn't until they screened a DVD he sent them after the Bruins' 73--57 loss to Florida in the title game that his achievements became clear. "They said, 'Why didn't you tell us? We would have come,'" Luc says. "I told them it happened too quick. It surprised even me."
Maybe the only thing more surprising than UCLA's dash to the final was the role played by Mbah a Moute (pronounced umbah-a-moo-teh), an agile 6'8" sophomore forward who is entering just his sixth year of organized basketball. Though he was not highly recruited out of Montverde (Fla.) Academy, he started all but one game last season and was named the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. A gifted post defender with excellent hands and a knack for anticipating rebounds, Mbah a Moute was especially productive in the tournament. He made the decisive basket and steal in a dramatic comeback over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 and tied a season high with 17 points in the Bruins' 59--45 win over LSU in the Final Four.
Mbah a Moute's rapid rise was critical during an injury-riddled regular season in which seven players missed a total of 89 games. The injury bug has not gone away: Junior guard Arron Afflalo, the Pac-10 preseason player of the year, suffered a stress reaction in his left foot in July, while junior center Lorenzo Mata sat out all of the preseason after undergoing arthroscopic right-knee surgery. On the flip side, sophomore swingman Josh Shipp, who played just four games last year following surgery on his right hip, appears to be fully recovered; he and Afflalo will form one of the top perimeter tandems in the nation.
After hoisting thousands of jump shots over the summer, Mbah a Moute pronounces himself "a year older and wiser," though coach Ben Howland is a bit concerned that Mbah a Moute's infatuation with offense might be detrimental. "He's judging his whole game based on how he's shooting," Howland says. "That's the last thing he needs to worry about."
If UCLA can overcome point guard Jordan Farmar's defection to the NBA and return to the Final Four, Mbah a Moute will find himself playing in front of two special fans: His parents have promised to meet him in Atlanta. "I won't say they totally understand how big [the Final Four] is, but they're getting there," Mbah a Moute says. After all, they're a year older and wiser too.
RETURNING STARTER *HIGH SCHOOL STATS
Nov. 15 BYU