AA is a living legend. DC is on his way of perhaps becoming one (hint to DC: it means coming back next season and teaming up with K Love to elevate himself into a lottery pick).
Luc is a Prince while Shipp (if he continues to improve) will end up joining his team-mates in the NBA.
Then there is Mata. What has Mata done at UCLA?
Nothing much except for the fact he has emerged as the latest story of inspiration from the school Jackie Robinson and Arthur Ashe. Rhiannon Potkey from the Ventura County Star tells us an incredible story on one of our favorite Ben Ball warrior:
A single mother earning a living as an embroidery worker in a factory, Real tried to shield her son from the negative influences waiting just outside their front door.
"There were gangs and drug dealers, and you could hear the ambulance passing by and the gunshots from the drive-bys," Mata said. "My mom didn't tell me they were gunshots. She always said they were something else. But when I grew up, I knew."
Mata attended seven different elementary schools while his mother searched for a safe haven. At each stop, Mata says he was persistently picked on and teased.
"They made fun of me because of my height," he said. "But that only made me stronger and tougher in what I am doing now."
Mata's family finally managed to save enough money for him and his mother to move out of South Central and into the Huntington Park area.
"All the credit goes to my mom. She is the one who kept me out of trouble and was there to pick me up after school every day so I wouldn't walk home alone," Mata said. "She always made sure I did my homework and kept me involved in good things. She had my back, and still has my back to this day."
Having spent most of his youth on a soccer field with his older cousins, Mata didn't even touch a basketball until he was in eighth grade.
As a 6-foot-7 freshman, the basketball coaches at South Gate High plucked Mata from the hallway and brought him into the gym. He came for two days, and then disappeared for the next three weeks.
"You're talking about a kid who couldn't walk on his own two feet when it came to playing basketball," said South Gate head coach Lester Sanchez, an assistant during Mata's career. "Luckily for us, we dragged him back out again, and he made tremendous strides."
Mata endured some academic struggles at South Gate, but stayed after school to study with tutors and raise his GPA and SAT score. His acceptance and scholarship to UCLA was a burden lifted from his mother's shoulders.
"Coming over here from Mexico, I wanted a better life for him and I thought I would barely be able to pay for his education," said Real through a translator. "I am so proud to see what he has done. Being a Mexican-American and having a chance to play basketball at UCLA is not easy."
While I was watching the HBO documentary this week, I was trying to picture our current team and how they would fit in Wooden's program. The segment on how Sidney Wicks handled a 7-2 center from Jacksonville, reminded me of how Mata handled a taller/stronger (at least on paper) centers like Aaron Gray (Pitt) and DJ White (IU) in the tournament.
We know Mata is still a work in progress. He may lose minutes next year when Love comes to town. But he has already emerged as a damn good basketball player and an indispensable part of Howland's foundation that restored the Wooden tradition at UCLA.
But more importantly, Mata has been an inspiration to all of us.
Mrs. Real is not alone. We are all incredibly PROUD of her son. Our favorite son.