Over at the LA Times, Diane Pucin has a great story about UCLA Center Lorenzo Mata. The member of Ben Howland's stellar inaugural recruiting class (Farmar, Afflalo, Shipp) Mata's stellar play this season has helped the Bruins return to the Final Four. If there's anything to be taken away from the story it's this: Mata is one tough dude.
Not smooth, but tough.
His trademark play: taking a charge. Among his proudest moments this season: When he vomited against Weber State in the first round of the NCAA tournament and came right back in the game.
"I was tough, man," the center says.
This trademark toughness has allowed Mata to selflessly fill the cracks and do the little things that need to be done. But back to the toughness.
Mata refers to himself as a "rough and tumble" player. What Knight and Howland noticed was that he had the legs of a weight lifter and a fearless attitude.
"He's had two broken legs, a broken nose, poked in the eye, so much stuff," Howland says of Mata's toughness. "He loves to take a charge. The kid is great."
I get it. He's tough. It's not just physical strength. It's also mental. And he's used it to get over being called ugly on these internets (not here), and the shame of being photographed by the pool with numerous bikini clad women (see above).
"Lorenzo is one of the shyest but coolest guys I've ever known," Cabrera says. "He's got his Sidekick, his trademark hats. He's got some jewelry, some baggy pants. Lorenzo thinks he's at the forefront of all the social trends. If someone tries to make a mockery of him, he brushes it off. That's his trademark too."
Finally, let's let Bill Walton give a final take on the lad. Remember, Walton's never been shy with his words...
"It's not how big you are, but how big you play. It's not how high you jump, but when you jump. I love the way Mata is playing right now."
If UCLA is going to beat Florida and avenge its embarrassing loss last year, Mata IS going to have to jump high - and do a whole lot more.