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A Graceful Warrior

Well I wasn’t sure if it is possible to love Mata-Real any more than I already do. But after reading this morning’s Diane Pucin’s latest profile on one of the original Ben Ball warrior, that appreciation will go up a whole another level.

Mata-Real is slowly coming around this year after dealing with a series of nagging injuries to his foot, groin and a concussion that has stunted his senior season. And on top of that he has had to give up minutes to Kevin Love. Yet through all these on court related adversity LMR has maintained an attitude that coaches in today’s games can only dream about from modern day athletes. From today’s LAT:

He could have resented Love. Could have shunned him or thrown an especially nasty elbow here or not-so-subtle shove there on the practice floor to test the freshman's mettle.

Instead, Mata-Real -- who added his remarried mother's surname to the back of his jersey this season -- has responded with admirable grace. He has taken it upon himself to tutor Love in the necessities and nuances of defense, and his efforts are welcomed by Love, whose play at the defensive end sometimes falls short of Coach Ben Howland's standards.

"I really pick up on him as much as I can," Love said Tuesday, before the Bruins practiced in advance of games at Washington State on Thursday and Washington on Sunday.

"You wait till senior night. He's going to get the biggest ovation you've seen in a long time. Not only because of what he's done here, being on two Final Four teams, but because he's such a great kid."

Because of Love, Mata-Real and the Bruins might reach the Final Four again this spring.

That's what matters most, Mata-Real said, more than his disappointment over having his minutes cut to 16.8 per game and not starting a single game as a senior.

"I'm just glad that we're winning," said Mata-Real, who is averaging 3.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in a season interrupted by a foot injury, a concussion, a groin pull and, most recently, a sore left wrist.

"I feel good no matter how many minutes I play, whether I play six or 20. I just go out and play hard all the time.

"As long as we continue to win games, that's all I want. That makes me happy, that we play well and we win as a team."
Pucin’s article also reveals how LMR is coping with the fact he has not been able to share any of his UCLA related moments with his Dad – Federico Mata – who has been in prison in Texas for last three plus years (for reasons that are not known to LMR). It’s not clear whether Mr. Mata will be able to see his son play. Yet LMR is holding on his two goals (other than the obvious of reaching the Final-4 for the third time in a row) for his senior season. From the same article:
He hopes to have breakfast with John Wooden, whom he greets with a hug and is rewarded with a thumbs-up whenever the coaching legend sits courtside at Pauley Pavilion.

And he hopes that his father, who is due to be released next month, will be able to see him play in person for the first time before he must return to Mexico.

"He calls me, and even though he isn't really there for me he would call me and help me out," Mata-Real said. "I know he was trying."

That last wish may not come to pass. Life isn't always fair. But Mata-Real will persevere, as he always has, bringing unexpected grace to his path.
Well here is one Bruin who will keep his fingers crossed, hoping LMR gets all his wishes. I am sure there will be thousands of others doing the same. Here is one kid who deserves all the good things that can happen to him in his senior season and beyond because of how he has carried himself both on and off the court during his four magical years at UCLA.