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.



Jay Wright (9th season)

2008--09 record


Big East

13--5 (4th)

NCAA tournament

Final Four


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
PF Reggie Redding 6'5" Sr. 7.1 ppg 4.9 rpg

Returning starter

* High school stats


Nov. 13 Fairleigh Dickinson

Nov. 16 Penn

Nov. 19--20, 22 George Mason*

Nov. 28 La Salle

Dec. 2 Drexel

Dec. 6 Maryland

Dec. 9 at Saint Joseph's

Dec. 13 at Temple

Dec. 19 at Fordham

Dec. 23 Delaware

Jan. 2 at Marquette

Jan. 6 DePaul

Jan. 9 Marquette

Jan. 11 at Louisville

Jan. 17 Georgetown

Jan. 20 at Rutgers

Jan. 23 at St. John's

Jan. 27 Notre Dame

Feb. 2 Seton Hall

Feb. 6 at Georgetown

Feb. 8 at West Virginia

Feb. 13 Providence

Feb. 15 Connecticut

Feb. 21 at Pittsburgh

Feb. 24 South Florida

Feb. 27 at Syracuse

March 2 at Cincinnati

March 6 West Virginia

*Puerto Rico Tip-Off, in San Juan (also Boston U, Dayton, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kansas State, Ole Miss)


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?

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PHOTOSEAN QUINN/AURORA IMAGINGMOUPHTAOU YAROU The Wildcats are banking on the big Beninois to block shots and bang the boards, with a few treys thrown in. PHOTO