Male Breakout Player of the Year: Steve Mondou-Missi

One step comes after the other. Steve Moundou-Missi knows that. He’s been doing it, and thinking about it too. Another step. This one comes down the sideline in Spokane, Wash. Moundou-Missi is sparking a rally in the Harvard men’s basketball team’s biggest game ever—how else but step by step?

Steps, those are what brought Moundou-Missi to America from his home country of Cameroon. Finding a prep school, convincing his skeptical parents, filing for a visa, step after step. Lifting his first weight, becoming fluent in English, fitting in at Montverde Academy. Some steps were painful, others arduous.

Moundou-Missi reminded himself of where the steps could take him; thinking about the rewards helped motivate him. Thinking, he does a lot of that, too.

More steps. Moundou-Missi rarely dribbles, but there he is, racing up the court. Then, there are no more steps.

No, now he is leaping.

Gone are the thoughtful strides, the contemplation of what to do next. Moundou-Missi says he has always preferred to sit back and observe, to figure out where things are going. Now, he is going—leaping for a thunderous dunk that will bring the Crimson to within four against Michigan State, 55-51, in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s a huge moment for Moundou-Missi, for the team, for the school.

But really, it’s just another step.

Moundou-Missi is a thinker. He always has been. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker could tell the forward was a little different as a recruit, when Moundou-Missi’s logic-driven approach made it hard for the coach to get a read on the high schooler’s preferences, even if Moundou-Missi tried to explain them.

If you are confident Harvard is the right place for me, Moundou-Missi told Amaker, then you should also be confident that I will end up playing for you because I’m going to make the logical choice.

Moundou-Missi’s future teammates caught on quickly, too. It was on his official visit that Moundou-Missi explained he would rather observe Harvard and its students than go out and explore.

He preferred to take it in, not jump in it.

“My teammates were like, ‘Who is this dude? He is kind of weird,’” Moundou-Missi remembered.

It did not take long for recently hired assistant coach Adam Cohen to notice the quirk either. Within weeks, he was begging the forward to “Just play,” telling him “You think too much.”

That’s exactly what Moundou-Missi has been thinking.

“I think too much,” Moundou-Missi said. “That’s the problem.”