Yarou's impact on Villanova went beyond the numbers

Yarou's impact on Villanova went beyond the numbers
March 23, 2013, 1:30 pm
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KANSAS CITY – Twenty minutes after Villanova’s season ended, 20 minutes after Mouphtaou Yarou’s college basketball career ended, Yarou was still wearing his uniform in the Wildcats’ locker room in the Sprint Center.

The massive senior was smiling, but it didn’t hide the sadness as he walked from teammate to teammate, hugging them silently.

Finally, Yarou went up to fellow senior Maurice Sutton, gave him a hug and said, “I don’t want to take this uniform off.”

Nobody wanted him to take it off. For Jay Wright and his young Wildcat team, the saddest thing about the season-ending 77-71 loss to North Carolina was that it meant the end of Yarou’s Villanova career.

Yarou came to 'Nova from the village of Natitingou in the West African country of Benin, sat out the first half of his freshman year with Hepatitis B and gradually developed into a dominating post player and a beloved member of the Villanova family. He’s the only member of Wright’s regular rotation who’ll graduate. Sutton is the only other senior in the program.

Yarou’s voice cracked when he spoke Friday night about the end of his stay on the Main Line.

“I learned a lot from just playing for Villanova,” he said. “I met a lot of great people. Coach Wright helped me a lot through ups and downs. He was right there with me, pushing me. He always believe in me.

“I had like three great years. But this year was mostly the best. We lost to Columbia, we won against some tougher team. The locker room was great. We were brothers. I really enjoy. I enjoy it.”

Yarou played in 120 games for Villanova, scored 1,068 points, had 836 rebounds, blocked 101 shots. His 836 rebounds are 10th-most in 'Nova history, and since the 1985 NCAA championship team, only Jason Lawson has had more.

Yarou went out the right way, averaging 16 points and nine rebounds in the Big East and NCAA tourneys. And he finished with a terrific game – 17 points and eight boards in Villanova’s loss to North Carolina.

But his impact on the Villanova program goes way beyond the numbers.

There’s a reason coach Jay Wright gets emotional talking about Yarou.

“Mouphtaou has definitely been one of my favorite guys to coach,” he said. “I think he's come as far as anyone. As a freshman, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis B. We actually had to have a talk where if you can't ever play, you're still going to be on scholarship at Villanova and be part of this family.  He had already given so much to the university just in the student body.

“He's gotten so much better. I think he's one of the best forwards in the country. He can rebound with anybody, he can shoot with anybody, defends on the perimeter, defends on the post. He was a great leader for us.

“As a coach, you have guys that come a long way, he's come so far as a player and a man. One of my favorites to coach.”

Yarou, 6-foot-10, 265 pounds, will no doubt play professionally somewhere. With his surprising soft touch from the outside and relentless toughness inside, he’s evolved into a solid big man.

But the legacy he leaves, as teammate Darrun Hilliard said Friday night, has more to do with what he meant off the court to the Villanova program than on the court.

“He’s meant everything to me,” said Hilliard, who averaged 11.4 points per game for the Wildcats this year, “He taught me so much. Coming in last year, it was hard for me to adapt to being on a team because I’m not a real vocal guy, and Mouph, he just taught me how to be a man, how to look a person in his eyes and worry about your teammates first and give it all for your teammates.

“I have all the respect in the world for him, and he’ll always be my good friend – he and Mo Sutton – will always be my good friends till the day I die. I’ll never forget what they did for me.

“It’s more than basketball. It’s a lot more basketball. They taught me about life, and I’ll always keep that with me.”