UCLA Coach Ben Howland assured incoming freshman Luc Richard Mbah a Moute that he would be a big part of the team this season.
Encouraging? Definitely. Realistic? Well ...
Mbah a Moute was coming to Westwood with only five years’ experience in organized basketball, having learned to play in his native Cameroon and spent only two years at a U.S. prep school.
He was changing positions, moving from small forward to power forward.
And Mbah a Moute didn’t figure to start. At power forward, Alfred Aboya, a fellow Cameroonian, was penciled into the lineup.
Maybe so, but when the ink was dry on the awards for this season, it was Mbah a Moute’s name in headlines, named Monday as the Pacific 10 Conference freshman of the year in men’s basketball, an honor won last season by teammate Jordan Farmar.
Also honored from UCLA were Howland, as coach of the year, and Farmar and fellow sophomore guard Arron Afflalo, as members of the all-Pac-10 squad. Mbah a Moute was given honorable mention in voting by conference coaches.
Two USC players, Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young, both sophomores, were named all-Pac-10.
With Aboya spending the early part of the season recovering from arthroscopic surgery on both knees, and numerous injuries severely weakening the Bruins’ frontcourt, Mbah a Moute stepped in and averaged 8.4 rebounds, third-best in the conference and best among freshmen. He also averaged 8.8 points and led UCLA in blocks with 21.
“It’s something to build on,” Mbah a Moute said.
He said he would call his parents in Cameroon sometime this week.
“This will make them proud,” he said.
Howland, 48, in his third season with the Bruins, has led them to a 24-6 record, including a conference-title-winning mark of 14-4.
It is UCLA’s first Pac-10 conference championship in nine seasons. No Bruin team has won more games overall since 1994-95, when UCLA went 32-1 and won the NCAA championship.
Afflalo, averaging a team-leading 17.1 points a game, and Farmar, averaging 14 points and a conference-leading 5.46 assists, made the all-conference team for the first time.
Pruitt and Young, both all-conference for the first time as well, are the first Trojan pair to make the honor squad since Duane Cooper and Harold Miner in 1992.
Washington senior guard Brandon Roy was voted Pac-10 player of the year.
Arizona senior guard Hassan Adams, from Westchester High, was also named to the 10-player all-conference team. Adams then was suspended by Coach Lute Olson for the Pac-10 tournament after being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving over the weekend.
Mbah a Moute was named to the all-freshman team, with teammate Darren Collison and USC’s Ryan Francis, both guards, earning honorable mention.
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*--* Name School Pos Yr PPG Hassan Adams Arizona G Sr. 17.3 Arron Afflalo UCLA G So. 17.1 Jordan Farmar UCLA G So. 14.0 Matt Haryasz Stanford F Sr. 16.6 Chris Hernandez Stanford G Sr. 14.8 Leon Powe California F So. 20.0 Gabe Pruitt USC G So. 16.7 Brandon Roy Washington G Sr. 22.0 Ayinde Ubaka California G Jr. 14.6 Nick Young USC G/F So. 17.2
* Player of the year: Brandon Roy, Washington.
* Honorable mention: Malik Hairston (Oregon, So., G), DeVon Hardin (Cal, So., F), Bobby Jones (Washington, Sr., F), Kevin Kruger (Arizona State, Jr., G), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (UCLA, Fr., F), Ivan Radenovic (Arizona, Jr., F), Jamaal Williams (Washington, Sr., F).
* Coach of the year: Ben Howland, UCLA.
* All-freshmen team: Jon Brockman, Washington; Justin Dentmon, Washington; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA; Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State; Marcus Williams, Arizona.
* Freshman of the year: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA.
* Honorable mention freshmen: Darren Collison (UCLA, G); Ryan Francis (USC, G); Mitch Johnson (Stanford, G), Theo Robertson (Cal, F).