tampabay.com

Freshman can drive foes, fans a bit crazy

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published April 3, 2006


INDIANAPOLIS - That UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be going against Florida and Joakim Noah tonight is further proof the world is, indeed, getting smaller.

 

Mbah a Moute went to Montverde Academy, about 25 miles west of Orlando, and is a native of Cameroon. And as a child, he frequented the ranch of Zacharie Noah , Joakim's grandfather. The elder Noah, a renowned soccer player, had a tennis court, basketball court and swimming pool on his homestead a short drive from Mbah a Moute's village.

"His grandfather is a great person and does a lot for the community," Mbah a Moute said Sunday. "He'd have us over there and give us advice."

Zacharie Noah might not be so generous right now. Not that Mbah a Moute (pronounced umbah-a-moo-teh) appears to need it.

The 6-foot-7, 224-pounder continues to blossom. He had 17 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's 59-45 win against LSU and helped shut down star forward Glen Davis . That despite bumping a knee, which later was X-rayed.

"I really like him, how hard he plays, how tough he is," UCLA coach Ben Howland said, adding he saw Mbah a Moute first play in a Central Florida gym without air conditioning in mid July. "It was 110 degrees; 115 degrees minimum with a humidity level of maybe 100 percent. Coach (Kevin) Sutton put this kid through a two-hour (workout). I was uncomfortable standing there. I'm wanting water after water out of the machine. This kid is absolutely playing like you can't believe."

Howland was particularly impressed with the youngster's fundamentals; especially when he learned Mbah a Moute, 19, a prince in his village of Bafia, where boa constrictors taste better than chicken (we'll take his word), had been playing basketball for only four years.

Obviously, a quick study.

"He's always poised, always under control, a great team player and real supportive of his teammates," sophomore guard Jordan Farmar said. "Off the court, he's really fun. Him and Alfred (Aboya, also from Cameroon) are comedians."

Mbah a Moute's play - he was named Pac-10 freshman of the year - and personality have led some UCLA students to sport T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, with apologies to Duke, "Cameroon Crazies."

"I love the Cameroon Crazies," Mbah a Mouthe said. "When you look up and see people cheering your name or your country, it makes you feel pretty good. It makes you realize you're doing something special."

Even Zacharie Noah would appreciate that. Well, maybe on any other night.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Florida coach Billy Donovan recruited Farmar intensely, but the youngster from Los Angeles decided to stay home at the 11th hour.

"He really made a poor choice, didn't he?" Donovan deadpanned. "No, I'm happy for Jordan. He's in a great situation. He's gotten a lot better as a basketball player as I knew he would."

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN II: Noah said the first coach to recruit him was Howland, then at Pitt.

"My sophomore year," Noah said, "I remember him ... saying one day he would recruit me. It's crazy now we are playing him in the national championship."

DID YOU KNOW? Florida and UCLA enter with 32-6 records. That has happened just one other time, 1966, when Kentucky and Texas Western were 27-1. Texas Western (now UTEP) made history by winning the game with an African-American starting lineup. REMEMBER WHEN? This is the fourth time teams from the SEC and Pac-10 meet in the finale. The last time was 1997, when Arizona beat Kentucky in overtime at the RCA Dome. The other two? John Wooden 's last title in 1975 (against Kentucky) and UCLA's most recent title, 1995, against Arkansas. CINCINNATI: The school gave freshman point guard Devan Downey , who averaged 11.9 points and 4.3 assists, permission to look into transferring.