Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moundou-Missi fitting in at Harvard

Image courtesy of Harvard Athletics

by Scott Reed
WHRB Sports

In the midst of one of what is so far one of the most successful seasons in school history, the Harvard Crimson, though led by a talented corps of returning juniors and seniors, are also receiving strong contributions from a newcomer: freshman Steve Moundou-Missi, an athletic 6'-7" forward whose journey to Cambridge is as long as his game.

A valuable contributor for the Crimson on the court this season, Moundou-Missi has appeared in all of Harvard's seventeen games, and is second on the team behind Wesley Saunders in minutes played by a first-year. He also leads all Crimson freshman in scoring and had a team-high sixteen points in Harvard's last win, over George Washington on January 14th. Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker has made it known repeatedly that he is pleased with the forward's performance: during preseason workouts, Amaker identified Moundou-Missi as the "most consistent" member of the freshman class, and praise continued following his breakout performance against GWU: "We're thrilled to have the chance to coach [him]...he's an outstanding player."

Almost as remarkable as Moundou-Missi's impact on a deep Crimson team is his personal journey, which started in West Africa and continued in west-central Florida. He is a native of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, a nation of 19 million people. Starting out, Moundou-Missi played a different kind of roundball: soccer. "Growing up, I didn't want to play basketball," he says, "but once I got to know it, I liked it."

The odds of Moundou-Missi finding his way to the basketball court would have been long if not for the influence of his parents, who each played the sport for the Cameroon national team in the 1980s. They brought him to the US in his teens, where he eventually ended up at Montverde Academy in central Florida, a college preparatory school known for both its international student body and its nationally-competitive men's basketball team, led by Kevin Sutton, incidentally now an assistant coach at George Washington. After Moundou-Missi led the way in Harvard's 69-48 victory over the Colonials, Sutton gushed about his former player:"I'm very proud of him," he said, "honestly, I think he can be a pro."

Moundou-Missi had a stellar high school career, where he also had the chance to play with other very talented players: thirteen of his teammates (including current Harvard sophomore Ugo Okam) in his three years there would go on play Division-I basketball, and the 2009-2010 Montverde team that included Moundou-Missi was ranked the fifth-best high school team in the United States by ESPN. His success at the high school level led to his courtship by several so-called "power conference" schools, including Iowa and Florida.

Moundou-Missi's decision to attend Harvard, however, was largely academically-motivated. "I am trying to be an engineer later in life...I love math, I love physics," he says. He won a national math competition while in high school and according to Coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard's partnership with MIT, in which a student enrolled at one university can take courses at the other, played an influential role in the forward's decision to come to Cambridge.

Moundou-Missi's matriculation at Harvard has already paid dividends for the Crimson, who head into the meat of their Ivy League schedule, and Amaker is excited about the potential of his freshman forward, both this season and beyond: "We're thrilled to have the chance to coach Steve...We were thrilled to have him decide on Harvard, because we knew he would be an outstanding player and an outstanding citizen here on campus."

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