November 18, 2009
Villanova <a href=Wildcats" title="Villanova Wildcats"/>
Big East
The Wildcats are banking on the Mouphtaou Yarou to block shots and bang the boards, with a few treys thrown in.
The Wildcats are banking on the Mouphtaou Yarou to block shots and bang the boards, with a few treys thrown in.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Key Game
The Big East regular-season title and conference tournament top? seed could be on the line when Villanova plays host to West Virginia at Wachovia Center in Philly. Will the Mountaineers' fearsome forwards, Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, outscore the Wildcats' backcourt brigade?
Fast Facts
COACH: Jay Wright (9th season)
2008-09 RECORD: 30-8
Big East RECORD: 13-5 (4th)
Starting Lineup
PG Corey Fisher 6' 1" Jr. 10.8 ppg 2.8 apg
SG Scottie Reynolds* 6' 2" Sr. 15.2 ppg 3.4 apg
SG Corey Stokes 6' 5" Jr. 9.3 ppg 3.4 rpg
PF Antonio Peña 6' 8" Jr. 5.1 ppg 4.2 rpg
PF Mouphtaou Yarou** 6' 10" Fr. 20.0 ppg 12.0 rpg
Key Reserve
PF Reggie Redding* 6' 5" Sr. 7.1 ppg 4.9 rpg
*Returning starter     **High school stats

This article appears in the November 23, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated

In April 2008 Villanova coach Jay Wright went to an AAU tournament to scout Talib Zanna, a 6' 9" forward from Nigeria. Wright's Wildcats were due to lose three senior forwards after the 2008-09 season, and they'd need reinforcements.

The game Wright attended initially looked like a waste: Zanna was absent. The saving grace was a 6' 10" forward from Nigeria's narrow neighbor, Benin, whom Wright had never seen. "I called my staff to tell them that there was this guy, number 34, who was a beast," Wright says.

At that point Mouphtaou Yarou had only been in the U.S. for four months and was so little known that he was being identified as Mouphtaou Tarou. Wright began recruiting the Big Beninois before any other major-conference school did, and on his campus visit in August, Yarou made friends with Cameroonian senior Frank Tchuisi, a fellow francophone who was about to become a team assistant.

A month later Wright and assistant Pat Chambers traveled to Yarou's hometown of Natitingou to visit his family. An English-speaking uncle told them, "Don't worry about basketball. They want to know he'll get an education."

School matters on the Main Line, but so does hoops, and now Yarou is 'Nova's x factor. The Wildcats boast an experienced backcourt, with senior Scottie Reynolds and juniors Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes back from last season's Final Four team but won't contend again unless Yarou emerges as a formidable rebounder and shot blocker.

The first Benin-born baller of significance in the U.S., Yarou developed nimble feet playing soccer and cultivated a soft touch while being schooled by his brother Kader, whose career was cut short by injury. Mouphtaou credits his sibling for teaching him a face-up game advanced enough that it has Wright vowing, "He'll be shooting threes before he leaves."

The Wildcats don't need more perimeter weapons. For the sake of their Final Four encore, a true big man may have appeared just in time.
-- Luke Winn

Issue date: November 23, 2009

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