In the Republic of Benin, a small West African country of about nine million people, Mouphtaou Yarou played soccer like many of his peers. Then he started growing; much bigger than the other kids. So three years ago, as is typical of those who outgrow soccer in Africa, he picked up a basketball. Not so typical, however, is Yarou, now in the states, has the eye of just about every college basketball coach.
"There isn't a college that has not called about him," said Renard Phillips, one of his coaches on the D.C. Blue Devils AAU team.
New Mexico State, Villanova, Georgia, Jacksonville, Kansas State and DePaul have offered. Everybody else has inquired about the incredibly skilled power forward, whose advanced ability suggests he's played basketball all his life.
"He kind of reminds me of a young Hakeem Olajuwon when he first came," D.C. Blue Devils 17 and under coach Vaughn Jones said.
Yarou came to the United States on Jan. 14 and enrolled at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., near the West Virginia border. He played in about 15 games for the school, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds. Nobody knew of his skill—or, simply, him--until the beginning of the AAU circuit.
His play at the Boo Williams Invitational in mid April put him on the map, though he had impressed before that at a Playaz tournament in New Jersey. He got the best of Isaiah Armwood and Wally Judge, two top frontcourt prospects, at a recent tournament in Chantilly, Va. On the Sunday of that tournament, he went 12 of 12 from the floor in his first two games. He had 13 points and 15 rebounds against Armwood and Terrell Vinson's WPC Elite team.
"Every tournament he did everything that was expected of him," Phillips said. "I still don't think he's even come out of his shell yet because he's still getting accustomed to the game."
Yarou has grown from 6 foot 7 1/2, 220 pounds to 6 foot 9, 236 pounds in his four months here. Phillips considers him a "face-up 4," with the ability to step out and shoot and score down low. He possesses an array of smooth post moves, a product of his quick footwork from soccer.
"He's definitely not the typical African kid that comes over because of his skill set," Phillips said. "Most Africans that come over are just athletic and raw. He's like the total opposite. He's not as athletic, but he's highly skilled. He can score in a bunch of different ways."
Yarou's native language is French and he speaks very little English. But he's a hit with his teammates, who call him ‘Mouph' and manage to crack him up despite the language barrier. They have no problem communicating on the floor, though, where Yarou's understanding of the game is almost as good as everybody else's.
There's still some adjustment to be made, such as life on the busy AAU circuit.
"Everything's a transition for him. Just in terms of the amount of games that he plays in a day; the constant circuit grind. He's gotten better since the competition's gotten better. So we still haven't seen the best of him yet I don't think," Phillips said.
Yarou is still learning about American life too, and isn't familiar with college basketball teams. His goal, however, is fairly straightforward: "I'm trying to play basketball in college and maybe pro," he said.
There's little question that Yarou is a high-major product and one of the top forwards in the class of 2009. At least to Phillips.
"I think by the end of the summer if he's not top 30," Phillips said, "then I probably shouldn't be doing this anymore."
African import Yarou bursts onto scene
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