Two Villanova players form a fast friendship

Mouphtaou Yarou (23), battling Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman, gets a hand from teammate and friend Daniel Ochefu.
Mouphtaou Yarou (23), battling Syracuse's DaJuan Coleman, gets a hand from teammate and friend Daniel Ochefu. (AP)
Posted: January 22, 2013

Maybe Mouphtaou Yarou and Daniel Ochefu get along well because they play basketball for Villanova, or because they have backgrounds in soccer. Or maybe it's because Ochefu's mother gives him African food for Yarou.

"My mom makes this egusi soup," Ochefu said. "It's got spinach and different types of meats in it. That's really helped [our relationship]. That wasn't too bad."

"I really like it," Yarou said.

Whatever it is that has drawn together Yarou, the 6-foot-10 senior who came to the United States in 2007 from Benin in West Africa, and Ochefu, the 6-11 freshman who returned to his father's native Nigeria to live for 31/2 years before starting high school at the Westtown School, they enjoy their time on and off the court.

Yarou, who is shy in interviews, said he liked the fact that Ochefu was "always happy, always smiling, always making jokes." Ochefu, a little more outgoing than his teammate, said he appreciated Yarou's power game and looked up to him as a person, and, "We clicked right away."

Wildcats coach Jay Wright had a plan to help fuel the friendship. When Ochefa enrolled in school last July, Wright asked Yarou if he would room with the freshman to teach him the ways of life at Villanova.

"We made the decision that it might be better for Daniel to room with Mouph for mentorship, and Daniel took it seriously," Wright said. "It's worked out great. I know a lot of guys who don't want to take freshmen in their senior year, but when I went to Mouph and asked him, he said, 'Definitely. Glad to do it.' "

The icebreaker for the two was competing in the FIFA series of video games. Yarou played soccer growing up in Benin "until I got too big." Ochefu played the same sport during his years in Nigeria but focused on basketball upon returning to the United States.

One piece of advice Yarou gave was to tell Ochefu that, as a basketball player, he is unlike most other students but not better than they are.

"Villanova is a small school, and you've got to be careful. You've got to know what you're doing off the court," he said. "You have to respect others. You're not different from other students. You're not a normal student, but don't treat other students as if you're better than them."

On the court, Yarou impressed upon Ochefu the need to keep pushing through the soreness produced by practice and games.

"You'll find that you've never worked that hard in your life," he said.

Ochefu said he took to heart the counsel to stay focused on schoolwork and basketball. He also adopted the idea of playing through the soreness.

"Here, you just have to keep working," he said. "If you get sore and tired, you expect to get more sore and tired."

Although his post game isn't yet polished, Ochefu has shown a knack for offensive rebounding, pulling down five in each of his first two games as a starter. Yarou followed a so-so showing in the Wildcats' nonconference schedule to post double-doubles in back-to-back Big East games.

The two players like being on the floor together. In Ochefu's first three collegiate starts, he teamed with Yarou to average a combined 18 points and 18.3 rebounds.

"Even in practice, I know he has my back," Yarou said. "He's always thinking about the team. He's a good teammate. When we play together, it's easier for me."

The Providence game, a 69-66 loss on Saturday for the Wildcats, was a hiccup for both players. Yarou picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and never got in a rhythm, and Ochefu had problems with the Friars' quickness.

Yarou takes responsibility to set the example at practice and in games for Ochefu and his teammates. Wright said he has come a long way in his four years at Villanova, and thinks the pairing with Ochefu is "a perfect combination."

"He's really interested in what type of legacy he leaves with the program and with Daniel," Wright said. "Daniel is coming to college wide-eyed. But he's really smart, and he knows Mouph gets it, and he's learning and listening to him."

Louisville at Villanova

Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wells Fargo Center

TV/radio: PHL17; WIP-AM (610)

Records: Louisville (16-2, 4-1 Big East) ranked No. 5 in the AP Top 25; Villanova (11-7, 2-3).

Coaches: Louisville, Rick Pitino (12th season, 291-108); Villanova, Jay Wright (12th season, 248-137).

Leading scorers: For Louisville, 6-foot junior guard Russ Smith (19.3 ppg.), 5-11 senior guard Peyton Siva (11.3 ppg., 5.6 apg.), 6-7 sophomore forward Chase Behanan (11.2 ppg., 7.7 rpg.). For Villanova, 6-7 sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 ppg.), 6-3 freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono (11.6 ppg.), 6-4 sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard (9.9 ppg.).

Key stat: Louisville leads the Big East in turnovers forced with 19.7 per game. Villanova leads the conference in turnovers committed with 16.3 per game.

- Joe Juliano

Contact Joe Juliano at Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq

comments powered by Disqus