4 to Watch


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jan 1, 2006 12:00 AM

Nobody plays games like UCLA. As of this writing, the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame contained 97 NCAA team championship trophies—the most of any school in America—and the 2005–’06 season may very well be the one in which that magical 100th title is won. It’s an eminently realistic expectation, given yet another potent recruiting run by UCLA coaches.

Joining the current crop of outstanding players in Westwood this year are about 125 talented newcomers, in sports ranging from football to swimming & diving. Among them: five freshman “ones to watch” in 2005-’06: a volleyball player, a gymnast, a golfer and two basketball players, male and female. Like all of their new teammates, these athletes have already attained top honors at their high schools or in amateur play, and all are former or current members of national teams. But already, they’re poster kids for the kind of wide-ranging intelligence UCLA both fosters and attracts. Each member of this standout quintet brings a little something extra besides sheer physical ability to the campus: a game plan for life that includes a presidency; a passion for philosophy; a résumé that includes an actor’s head shots; an All-American work ethic; and an admirable desire to put learning above earning.

Alfred Aboya

plans that go way beyond sports.

No one would disagree that playing for the UCLA men’s basketball team is one of the most pressure-filled situations for a student-athlete, but you’d never know it from talking to Alfred Aboya. Easygoing, soft-spoken and thoroughly composed, the 20-year-old native of Yaounde, Cameroon, is not just one of five UCLA freshmen considered among the top 100 prep players in North America last season. He’s also got quite a game plan for his life. Hint: It involves running a country.

First, of course, there’s the basketball. An impressive 6’8” and 242 pounds, Aboya (full name: Aboya Baliaba Alfred Roland) is vying for the power forward position recently vacated by Dijon Thompson. Although slowed by arthroscopic surgery last fall, Aboya has high hopes for his debut season.

From the moment he began recruiting him out of the Tilton School in New Hampshire, Coach Ben Howland knew that Aboya was a true find. “I think he has good leadership qualities,” Howland says. “He’s very mature.” And by his own admission, very coachable. “I’m here to learn how to play,” the young man says modestly. “The coaches are here to teach me, so whatever they ask me to do, I will do.”

And he doesn’t lack for athletic ambition. “There are no guarantees in life,” Aboya declares. “The NBA is just a possibility, and if that turns out to be the best thing for me, my family and the people around me, I will go for it.”

But Aboya’s got a road map that goes way beyond basketball. Smart and ambitious, he speaks several languages besides English, including French, German and a number of Cameroonian dialects. The languages should help him in his pursuit of a degree in political science with an emphasis on international relations. “My goal is to run my country,” he says, smiling. “President Aboya. Doesn’t that sound great?”