In 1980, UCLA recruited two highly sought after centers, Stuart Gray, and Brad Wright, who both came to UCLA in 1981, playing for coach Larry Farmer. Stuart Gray won the starting center spot for the 1981-2 season, and kept it for three years, underachieving all along the way. He then decided to leave after his Junior season, and Wright stepped in as the starter for the 1984-5 season, under new coach Walt Hazard. Wright not only played significantly better than he ever had in his three seasons as a back-up, but oh so much better than Gray ever did. Wright averaged 10.5 points per game, and brought down 8.7 boards per game that senior season. Gray’s best efforts were 9.9 points per game, and 7.9 boards. The Bruins missed all the tournaments in Gray’s junior season, and thought they also missed the NCAA tourney in Wright’s one season as the starter, they did win the NIT.
For three years, Alfred Aboya played behind Lorenzo Mata and Kevin Love, and in the shadow of fellow countryman and front-liner, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Well, Mata graduated and Love was one and out, and Luc Richard left early as well, and Aboya is the starting center, and playing lights out – solid defense, stellar rebounding, and providing offense that most who watched him the last three years never imagined, much like the situation with Wright was almost 25 years ago.
The similarities are striking, and maybe there will be a tournament title – and not that “other” tournament – in the offing this season as well.