UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and North Carolina guard Danny Green are among the players the Bulls are keeping tabs on for the ninth pick of the second round. Both are expected to work out for the team at the Berto Center.
One scout considers the 6-8, 229-pound Mbah a Moute the prospect with the quickest lateral movement at the draft camp, and he showed why when he defended 6-2 Jeremy Pargo of Gonzaga and 6-6 Richard Roby of Colorado on Tuesday night.
''I take pride in playing defense,'' said Mbah a Moute, a royal prince in his native Cameroon. ''Going to the NBA as a rookie, that's what I'm going to have to do anyway. I pride myself in guarding any position, from one to four. Sometimes in college, I guard one to five. Being that versatile ... has helped my team get to three Final Fours.''
With that as a jumping off point, indulge me in my own little riff on Luc:
At his best, Mbah a Moute is an unconventional player. As the scout above notes,he has incredible lateral quickness. His arms are very long and he is quick off his feet. The result is a player who can defend basically four different positions with a natural knack for rebounding.
He's been compared -- poorly, IMO -- to Bruce Bowen and Dennis Rodman. This is only because these two players carved a niche for themselves in the NBA without being real scoring threats, the rebounded and defended their way into relevance. If that's the extent of the comparison, then I can see how Luc fits in with that group, but really, the Prince is nothing like Bowen or Rodman who are nothing like each other.
As a freshman, that's the Luc we saw. In retrospect, it occurs to me that he didn't know any better. He was still relatively new to the game, at least he wasn't a kid who grew up playing every day at the park. He came from Cameroon and compared to other elite prospects hadn't developed his game as completely.
What UCLA got was a revelation.
Luc rebounded and defended, sometimes it seemed he was operating mostly on instinct. You only have to watch the final sequences of the Gonzaga game to see Luc at his best.
So, what happened after that, how did Mbah a Moute change and how did that impact the perception of his game.
I think Luc found himself in a quandary.
On one hand, he had "people" telling him he needed to become a true small forward, because that's what he'd be in the NBA. "Work on your handle and your jump shot," he was supposedly advised. On the other hand, the more he tried to become what he wasn't -- at least not yet -- the less he focused on the things that made him great in the first place.
A series of events outside his control played into the situation, too. His sophomore year was marred by injuries, his quickness and leaping ability were curtailed by tendinitis. Arron Afflalo left for the NBA before LRMAM's junior year, prompting Ben Howland to at least experiment with Josh Shipp in the backcourt and Luc at small forward (which only stoked the Luc-is-a-three fire).
What we ended up with was Luc-lite. I lack the recall to cite specific games, but my general feeling about Luc's junior year was that we would see him trying to show off his offensive prowess early on, many times in games UCLA fell behind. Try to remember how many close games and comebacks we had last year. When UCLA was mounting comebacks, we'd suddenly see the Luc of old, he'd grab rebounds and buckle down on defense. I don't really think this was by design. Had UCLA won its games going away, Offensive Luc would have lasted longer every night. But the need to win, the desperation of having to come back or fight in close games, brought out Instinctive Luc -- the kid we saw as a freshman.
So, when Nestor says he wants the Luc of old or no Luc at all, I know what he means. Luc is simply a better player when he does what he does best and doesn't try to be more than he is. Ironically, he seems to be saying exactly that in the quote above.
No one in their right mind doesn't want Instinctive Luc back as a Bruin. That guy is a great player. But getting back the Luc who spends too much time trying to show the scouts he can score is simply less desirable.
The bottom line is: Luc Richard is capable of being a very special player. He has shown us that many, many times. All we want is for him to realize that he's special just the way he is, and that he doesn't have to be someone else to be happy.
Where's Mr. Rogers when you need him.