With the Harvard men’s basketball team clinging to a one-game lead in the Ivy League standings, Crimson fans might have expected reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright or former Ivy League Rookie of the Year Kyle Casey to come up big against Brown last weekend.
Instead, it was 220-pound freshman forward Steve Moundou-Missi who answered the call, leading Harvard to a 69-42 victory with 14 points, six rebounds, and four swats.
The Cameroonian has been an integral part of Harvard’s inside game this season, providing strong post defense and showing flashes of his athletic offensive skills. He has appeared in all 26 games for the Crimson and currently leads all Harvard rookies in points per game and minutes played per game.
But Moundou-Missi’s path to basketball has been a long one.
“At first, I didn’t like basketball because my parents played and I didn’t want to be like my parents,” Moundou-Missi said.
His father Jean Paul, who stands at 6’10”, and his mother Annette, who is 5’10”, both played basketball for the Cameroon national team.
“I always played soccer,” the freshman forward said. “It’s big in Cameroon. Growing up, I wanted to be a soccer player.”
Moundou-Missi, much like many of his fellow Cameroonians, fell in love at an early age with “the beautiful game” of soccer. A big fan of the Cameroon national team and its superstar Samuel Eto’o, Moundou-Missi admits to having a fierce passion for the game of soccer.
“Whenever I can afford to play [soccer], I do,” Moundou-Missi said. “Sometimes I even play with a basketball.”
The Yaounde, Cameroon native did not make the transition from soccer to basketball until a few years before he moved to the United States at age 16.
“I was introduced to basketball by my parents,” Moundou-Missi said. “They made me start playing basketball when I was 13 or 14. I attended camp in Cameroon...[and the coach there] was impressed. I made contact with the high school coach [at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla.], Coach Sutton, and that’s how I came to [the United States].”
It wasn’t an easy transition for a 16-year-old who had lived in Cameroon all his life and spoke little English to move to the United States. Moundou-Missi attended boarding school and stayed with a host family on weekends.
“It was hard at the beginning,” Moundou-Missi admitted. “It was hard to be around people and not be able to say things you want to say. As the years go along, you don’t get used to it, but you do integrate more.”
Moundou-Missi still believes that although he made the switch to basketball, soccer has stayed with him.
“I can say that soccer influenced the way I play the game of basketball by improving my footwork,” he said. “Also, soccer is quite a physical sport. I think I got tougher as I was playing soccer. I now use that physical toughness to play basketball.”