When Ekpe Udoh transferred from Michigan to Baylor, it barely made a blip on the college basketball radar. At the time, Udoh was pegged by most scouts as a shot blocker with no real offensive skills. But something happened during Udoh's transfer year he was forced to sit out due to NCAA regulations: He crafted his offensive game and developed into something light-years away from unskilled.
Is this the look of a basketball player devoid of offensive talent?
Udoh, now 23 years old, is just your classic late bloomer. While some teams may look at Udoh's advanced age as a big downside, Joe Lemire of SportsIllustrated.com explains why it may not be so bad after all:
"To hear his Baylor coaches and teammates tell it, Ekpe Udoh is the world's oldest 22-year-old. (...) The coaches appreciate the mature approach of the 6'10" junior forward, who never slacks off in practice or in class and whose basketball insights are so sophisticated that talking to him is "like holding a clinic with another coach," says former assistant Matthew Driscoll, now the coach at North Florida."
Udoh's basketball savvy and rapidly improving skill-set was a treat to watch at Baylor. As the year progressed, you could visibly witness layers being added to Udoh's offensive game. Opposing defenses started sitting on the right-handed jump hook, so Udoh added a slick up-and-under move to counter. When defenders got physical and pushed him away from deep post position, Udoh started facing up and taking people off the dribble. At one point Udoh's offensive game was checkers, but now it's chess.
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Ekpe Udoh: What a "Nightmare"
"It's Udoh's work ethic at the offensive end that has made him a weapon all over the floor and has propelled him up NBA draft boards. He uses a nifty jump hook in the lane and is effective with his back to the basket or facing it. He can step out and bury the midrange jumper and even, as Kansas' coach Bill Self said, can hit a 3-pointer. He's made 5 of 14 this season.
He has also developed excellent ballhandling skills, allowing him to take his man off the dribble and create for himself, a rare quality for a big man. He's gone to the free throw line a team-high 87 times.
He also sees the floor well. Rarely is the power forward a team's second-leading assist-maker. But Udoh is, averaging just shy of three a game.
"He has incredible basketball intelligence, he's underrated as a passer, and he's a kid that really knows the game and appreciates the nuances and finer points of the game," Former Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker said. "He's a crafty kind of player. I don't always think you use those kinds of words or phrases or compliments for a kid that's a power forward. I always marveled at that with him."
As Udoh rounded into a complete player, he never lost sight of the fact that defense is what put him on the map in the first place. Udoh broke the Baylor single season record for blocked shots by averaging 3.7 swats a game, which was good for the fourth highest average in the nation.
Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News talked about Udoh's attention the less glamourous side of the game:
"Udoh (...) loves to play defense and has a passion for it few players possess.
"There's something about stopping somebody, it just gets me going," Udoh said during a media session at Thursday's NBA draft combine.
Just his mind-set about defense, and his passion for denying points, shows he's different than the typical basketball player.
"Defense wins championships and it's something that I love," said Udoh, who averaged 9.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks (along with 13.9 points) at Baylor last season. "Getting that critical stop. Just blocking a shot, it gets everybody going."'
Although Udoh still has developing to do, his combination of size and skill make him a scary player to go up against at any level. And to his credit, Udoh has marketed himself in a accordingly. Udoh is already an imposing figure, but add on to it that his middle name is "Friday," he wears number 13, and his nickname is "The Nightmare" and you've got yourself a little shop of horrors represented in one big time prospect.