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Luc Mbah a Moute: From African prince to king of NBA

From Jessica Ellis, CNN
updated 2:32 AM EDT, Thu March 29, 2012
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a Cameroonian NBA star playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a Cameroonian NBA star playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is an NBA basketball player for the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Mbah a Moute's father is the chief of the Bia Messe village in Cameroon
  • The energetic forward is regarded as one of the best defenders in the NBA
  • Having taken part in Basketball Without Borders, he wants to help Africa's youth realize their potential

(CNN) -- Having to guard NBA stars like LeBron James and Paul Pierce can be the most daunting task for many basketball players.

But for Milwaukee Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute -- who is actually a prince in his native Cameroon -- turning up against such basketball royalty is an enthralling experience.

"I take pride in my defense," says Mbah a Moute, a 6 feet 8 inches forward who has leaped onto the NBA scene in the last few years, becoming an athletic ambassador for Africa in the world's top basketball league.

Born and raised in Cameroon, Mbah a Moute is the third-youngest son of the chieftain of a village near the country's capital Yaounde. His father is also the general manager of the Cameroonian National Employment Fund.

Cameroon's basketball prince
From Cameroon to the NBA
Giving back to Cameroon

Describing his upbringing, Mbah a Moute is quick to point out that it was far from luxurious, calling it "regular middle class."

"When people hear you are a prince they think of Eddie Murphy and [1988 movie] "Coming to America," which is totally not true," he explains. "My dad is just the chief of my village, it's not like Zamunda or the crazy things you see in the movie -- I don't have my face on the money but you get treated with respect and have ceremonies."

The agile forward is one of seven African basketball players currently in the NBA, hoping to walk in the footsteps of other basketball legends from the continent such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

See more: NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo on his love for Africa

He is the lynchpin of the Bucks' defensive play and widely regarded as one of the league's best players to counter opposition threats -- Mbah a Moute has so far guarded everyone, from towering forwards like Kevin Garnett to shorter scoring machines such as Dwyane Wade.

"I think there is no one like him in the game because he can guard one through five positions on the floor -- big guys, small guys," says Australian player Andrew Bogut. "I call him the fire blanket because when guys get on fire in the game, we put Luc on them and he usually shuts them down," adds Bogut, who recently left Bucks to play for the Golden State Warriors.

Raised in Yaounde, a metropolitan city with more than a million residents, Mbah a Moute first picked up a basketball when he was 12 years old.

By the time he turned 15, he was one of the best youth players in his country, and three years later he was playing college basketball with UCLA in the United States.

I represent Cameroon, Africa, keeping the dream for other kids.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

"It's a pretty interesting journey," he says. "When I first came here I just knew how to say 'hi,' 'how are you' and 'good night' -- pretty much that was about it."

But it didn't take long for him to overcome the initial challenges of his new environment. His energetic game quickly became popular with the fans and Mbah a Moute developed a faithful following around the UCLA campus.

"There was another guy on the team from Cameroon and the fans were so good to us and they created the 'Cameroon crazies,'" he recalls. "They had flags and T-shirts and one time they came out with a shirt -- 'Moute kicks Boute' -- and then next year everyone starts wearing that and I was like 'wow.'"

His athletic talents also caught the eye of NBA's top teams and in 2008, Mbah a Moute fulfilled his childhood dream and became a professional player at the age of 21.

Read more: Wheelchair champ Ade Adepitan

Although he wasn't initially seen as one of the most exciting prospects to come out of college basketball that year -- he was a second-round draft pick for the Bucks -- Mbah a Moute was determined to not let this chance slip through his fingers.

"Most second-round picks don't stick -- a lot of times don't even play -- but I think I was determined," he says. "I just needed the opportunity and the chance and the Bucks gave me the opportunity and once I got that I seized it and the rest is history," Mbah a Moute says smiling.

And he has plenty of reasons to smile. He did not only stick to the world's toughest league but he recently re-signed with the Bucks for another four years -- the new deal more than tripled his salary, netting him close to $19 million.

But despite all his success in the basketball courts of America, the 25-year-old NBA star has not forgotten his roots. He wants to give back to his country and continent, helping young Africans to realize their potential.

There is a lot of potential in Africa, athletically, intellectually.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Read more: Legendary athlete Kip Keino goes extra mile for Kenyan youth

"The most rewarding part is being able to impact people," he says. "I represent Cameroon, Africa, keeping the dream for other kids."

In the summer of 2009, Mbah a Moute traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to take part in Basketball Without Borders, the NBA's ongoing effort to give talented youth a chance to play the game.

"There is a lot of potential in Africa, athletically, intellectually," he says. "You've got a lot of different people and they need to understand that they have a lot of potential and can do great things and moving forward to becoming the Africa of tomorrow."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report.

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