Ailene Voisin, sports columnist
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  • Randy Pench /

    Kings head coach Michael Malone, left, greets Kings forward Luc Mbah a Moute following practice on their first day of training camp at UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

  • Randy Pench /

    Kings forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks out of UCLA in 2008, works on free throws during the second day of training camp Wednesday at UC Santa Barbara.

  • Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: A prince among men, Mbah a Moute in royal battle for Kings' small forward job

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 10:42 am

SANTA BARBARA – Granted, much of the offseason has been devoted to reinventing and reintroducing the Kings to the rest of the world. But what happens when the world – when real royalty – drops in unannounced on the Kings?

This getting-to-know-you phase apparently is still in its infancy.

While Kings small forward Luc Mbah a Moute was in the Ivory Coast several weeks ago, competing for his native Cameroon in an international tournament, two men drove into the parking lot and knocked on the front door of the Kings' practice facility.

"I was at my desk, when one of the workers comes in and says, 'The father of one of your players is here,' " Kings coach Michael Malone said after Wednesday's training camp practice at UC Santa Barbara. "I'm thinking, 'Huh?' I get up and go to the front door, and sure enough, it was Luc's father (Camille Moute a Bidias). He said he wanted to say hello and see where Luc was going to be playing. I said, 'Great,' and started to shake his father's hand, only to be told that, 'In my village, in my country, nobody shakes the hand of the king.' His father puts his hand on my shoulder. I said, 'Well, you're in America now, and I'm a New Yorker,' so I reached out and shook his hand anyway. He got a big kick out of that."

With introductions out of the way, Malone gave Moute a Bidias and Luc's twin brother a tour of the practice courts, locker room and weight room and chatted briefly with his visitors.

A thumbs up, Moute a Bidias texted his son.

A few weeks later, however, Luc made a confession. He said his father had no idea Malone was the head coach.

"He thought I was a tour guide," Malone said with a grin.

Well, it's all new. New owners. New coaches. New shooting guard. New contract for DeMarcus Cousins.

And new competition at small forward, where Mbah a Moute, who was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks for two second-round draft choices after coveted free agent Andre Iguodala signed with Golden State, will challenge veteran John Salmons for the starting position.

While Salmons is a better outside shooter and playmaker, Mbah a Moute, 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, is an excellent individual defender and above-average rebounder. In theory, he immediately improves the Kings' perimeter defense, which should lead to steals, long rebounds, deflections and the transition opportunities that have been few and far between in recent seasons.

But his issues are two-fold: his offense is streaky and unpolished and, though only 27, he's been sidelined with injuries throughout much of his last two seasons. He sat out 20 games in 2011-12 with tendinitis and played only 58 games last year after arthroscopic surgery in the same right knee. Now recovered, he said, he spent the summer playing with Cameroon's national team and preparing for his trade back to the West Coast.

Mbah a Moute, whose youngest brother attends Cal, won numerous Pacific-10 Conference awards in his three seasons at UCLA. Still only two classes shy of a degree in international development, he was drafted by the Bucks in the second round (37th pick) in 2008. The team matched an offer sheet by the Denver Nuggets and extended his contract in December 2011.

Partly because of the ongoing makeover in Milwaukee, Mbah a Moute is delighted about the trade.

"It's a good beginning for my career, especially when I found out about all the changes with the GM, coach, ownership (in Sacramento)," he said. "I don't care about starting or not. I just want to be able to contribute. Defense is my calling card, though I have stretches where I can score a lot. I look at myself as a basketball player, and I try to get better in all areas all the time, working on my ball handling, jump shooting."

A late convert to the game – soccer rules in Cameroon – Mbah a Moute developed an affinity for basketball after watching Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and becoming intrigued with the careers of African stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

And similar to Mutombo, Mbah a Moute stays involved with several charitable undertakings, including the league's Basketball Without Borders program and a nonprofit anti-poverty program called "Pourquois Pas," near his hometown village outside Yaounde.

Back home, he's a prince, too.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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