UCLA

 

ucla

 

 

2005-2008

 

At Duke University’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, deep in the heart of North Carolina basketball country, zealous fans paint themselves blue and refer themselves to the “Cameron Crazies.” While they are generally regarded as the most rabid fan base in the country, for three years, they had a serious competitor for that title.

From 2005-2008, UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, 2,548 miles from Durham, North Carolina, was dominated by the “Cameroon Crazies.” They adorned themselves in yellow, red and green, Cameroon’s national colors, and chanted slogans in tribal languages. The sudden onset of pride in the Sub-Saharan nation wasn’t driven by a passionate history professor or a student group’s love of Africa, but instead, was inspired by two freshmen from Cameroon: Alfred Aboya, and fan favorite, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Luc left Cameroon when he was just 16, traveling to play high school basketball at a tiny academy in Florida. It was there that UCLA coach Ben Howland took notice. Visiting during Luc’s senior, Howland saw Luc’s relentless effort and tireless work ethic, and almost immediately offered him a scholarship to play for the school that launched the careers of Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

 

A Stellar Career Begins

Luc did not disappoint, earning a starting spot in preseason practices, and for the next three years, he almost never left the starting lineup. He made his mark initially as a rebounder, grabbing six or more rebounds in the first twelve games of his freshman season, endearing himself to fans with his hustle.

It was hardly a coincidence that at the same time, UCLA regained its winning ways as a program. The team went 24-6 in his freshman year, winning the Pac-10 regular season and tournament titles. During regular season play, Luc notched eight double doubles.

And while he was extremely strong throughout the season, earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors, Luc took his play to another level in the NCAA tournament. In the opener against Belmont, he led UCLA in every single category with 17 points, six assists, eight rebounds and three steals. He was far and away the best player on the court that night, yet Luc, as is his nature, was humble in victory.

“I was just trying to get my team together and execute,” he said. “I got some open opportunities, my teammates were finding me and I kept on rolling.”

The Bruins squeaked past Alabama to set a matchup with No. 3 Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga burst out to a seventeen point lead to start the game, but Luc and UCLA did not quit. Down nine with 3:30 left to play, Luc began the charge. He hit two free throws to cut the lead to seven. He grabbed a rebound after Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison hit a shot, and then picked up his teammate Jordan Farmar’s miss and put it back in. The lead shrunk to five.

« There was not a better play made all year long by anyone.” — Ben Howland on Luc’s final plays versus Gonzaga, 2006-07

With ten seconds left and UCLA down one, Farmar found Luc under the basket for another easy layup and UCLA took its first lead of the day. On the ensuing possession, Luc swiped at the ball as Gonzaga’s Derek Ravio was moving up court, knocking it loose. A scramble ensued, and Luc wound up with the ball at the bottom of the pile, ensuring the come-from-behind victory.

Afterward, Howland spoke with pride about Luc and the sequence that sent the Bruins into the Elite Eight, putting things simply: “There was not a better play made all year long by anyone.”

Two games later, Luc cemented himself in UCLA lore, shutting down what the tournament’s most dominant player, LSU’s Glen Davis. Big Baby had scored over 20 points in three of the four games leading up to the Final Four. Luc held him to a tournament-low 14 points, and UCLA advanced to its first championship game in more than a decade. Though the Bruins would fall to Florida in the finale, the Cameroon Crazies and the legend of Luc were spawned. Fans came to games next season adorned in “Moute Kicks Boute” shirts and shouted “Luuuuuuuuuc” whenever he touched the ball.

And although Luc loved the adoration — “They were like my family,” he says — he didn’t allow the fame or accomplishments to keep him from striving to improve. Luc began the season with a 24 point, 11 rebound performance in a win against BYU, and UCLA won its first 14 games, soaring to a number one ranking. Again the Bruins again won the Pac-10 regular season crown.


The Bruins once again tore through the NCAA tournament, winning their first four games by an average of 14 points. Luc’s best performance came in the round of 32, when he scored seven points and pulled in 12 rebounds as the Bruins thumped No. 7 Indiana. After beating Kansas in the Final Four, Luc was playing in his second straight Final Four.

But UCLA ran up against Florida again, and Florida again got the best of the Bruins.
 

Making History

Returning to UCLA, Luc had an opportunity to do what no UCLA player had done since Bill Walton: start in three consecutive Final Fours. Once again, the Bruins again got off to a hot start, winning their first seven and earning a No. 1 national ranking. They fell to No. 8 Texas despite a 14-point, seven-rebound night from Luc, but the team rebounded and rolled off a nine game winning streak. Luc scored eight or more points in eight of the nine games during that span, and UCLA went on to win the Pac-10 regular season title and conference tournament.

The Bruins entered the NCAA tourney as the number one seed, but played their first game without Luc, who was nursing a sore ankle. He returned to snag eight rebounds as UCLA eked out a win over Texas A&M in the next round. After besting Western Kentucky, the Bruins faced Xavier in the Elite Eight, with Luc having a chance to make history. He delivered, with a game-high 13 rebounds while scoring 13 points as the Bruins rolled to a win over the Musketeers. The Bruins clinched a trip to the Final Four and Luc’s place in UCLA lore was secure.

“It was a great feeling. The only thing is I never won, but just to have a chance, a lot of people go through college without going anywhere near the championships or the final four. So to do that for three straight years at a program like UCLA it something that I will never forget.”

And something the Cameroon Crazies will certainly never forget, either.