Ekpe Udoh: Baylor's Lionheart
By Edward Ziti
Every year a few unexpected players come out of nowhere to have big seasons and grab first round and lottery (top 14) spots in the NBA draft. Meet Ekpe Udoh, the big man who led Baylor to the Elite Eight, during their first NCAA tournament appearance in 60 years.
He’s a "nightmare" for opponents to match up with, because he’s 6’10 with a 7’5 wingspan, and a 235 pound frame. He attacks on offense and stalks on defense, being an impact player in every facet of the game. He’s an improving offensive player, a true thinker on the court, with the heart of lion, and that’s exactly what Ekpe's first name means translated…"Lion".
He’s of Nigerian blood, but has an American game, as Ekpe Udoh (pronounced, first name: 'Epp-Ay,' last name: 'You-Doe') is a bigman with more versatility and feel for the game than your average low post player. His overall decision making finding teammates and his feel for what to do on the low block was impressive both during the season and in the NCAA Tournament, and will be an added bonus at the next level.
Certain players play the game with a passion for success. They just seem to be winners, the kind of players that make everyone around them better. Udoh has some of those intangibles.
Post players that can play defense are desirable, but they don't always drafted high because of this skill. Udoh is one of the best defenders in college basketball and those skills should translate to the pro level. When guys post him up, they are often asking for trouble.
He does a great job of figuring out what his opponent is going to do and taking it away from him. On some occasions, players tried to fake one way and then spin right for the jump hook, only to have it smacked right back in their faces, usually only an inch or two from their release. Cutters and drivers to the basket that think they have space on him, usually find they have taken the wrong angle and are a lot further from the rim then they thought.
On many of these drives he refrains from stupid fouls and just allows the shooter to throw up a brick and doesn’t bail them out. This has allowed him to remain aggressive, while not succumbing to the foul trouble that many aggressive shot blockers fall into. Udoh plays smart, like a savvy vet. In fact, many of the fouls he got whistled for were offensive fouls where opponents drew charges under the basket.
His defensive prowess comes as no surprise, after all he was a Big Ten All Defensive Team member during his last year, and won Michigan’s Wayman Britt Outstanding Defensive Player award as well.
There’s not a team in the NBA that couldn’t use a guy like Ekpe. He runs the court like a gazelle. And is a very quick jumper, with a quick spin move and a wing span like a condor. He rarely lays the ball in when he scores and more often then not finishes with a ferocious slam.
The biggest difference for Udoh between Michigan and Baylor was how he handled his post play. At the college level, you have to double team him, but when you do; his passing skills are put on display. For many post players, passing is a lost art. It’s something they pick up as pros out of necessity, while never really mastering it.
At Baylor, Udoh was second on the team in assists with an average of 2.7 per game. When he gets to the pros, that number could be even higher as the players are much better shooters and his passes are usually right on the money. Whether it’s a cutter or an open shooter, he finds people. His passing skills keep the offense flowing as he’s looking for you as long as your open. This has really opened up Baylor’s offense and is another reason they had such a strong season.
Another thing you have to look at when drafting someone is whether they are coachable. Can this player improve, or is it a, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy? Udoh is notorious for being a hard worker and proved it the year he sat out when transferring to Baylor from Michigan, by becoming a much more offensively skilled post player.
If there’s an area he needs to improve on, it’s a better jump shot and free throw shooting. He has solid form and can even step out to the three point line. If he continues to work hard on his shooting; he should be able to improve in this area each year he’s in the league.
Udoh has an intriguing power forward package, will that be enough to make him a lottery pick come draft night? Time will tell.
I thought this was one of the best articles I ever read because it answered every question one might have about Udoh.
I often complain about the huge number of idiotic fouls players commit every game trying to block shots, even when their opponent is off balance. Edward wrote, "On many of these drives he refrains from stupid fouls and just allows the shooter to throw up a brick and doesn’t bail them out."
Thanks Ed, it was refreshing to see someone recognize this long ignored aspect of the game.
I watched a game early in the season where Boston College was up by 11 or 12 points with about one minute left in the game. I know their coach told them "no fouls", yet on every trip up the court by their opponent, they committed a stupid foul while trying to block a shot which stopped the clock. BC committed about 4-5 fouls in the last minute, all of which were completely unnecessary. It was mind boggling and the announcers never said a word.
the best thing about big men is definitely defense, but the best thing i like about big men are ones that can pass. Having them control the rebounds, and taking away easy shot in the paint, is a key to winning. Being a good passer tells me that an individual has high i.q. because they know to position their players, and have the ability to dictate the offense. All passing big men in my eyes have made a good living in the nba e.g. Webber, K.g., Sabonis, divacs, brad miller, Hibert (underrated), kevin love, bill walton. these are all players that people want to play with, and udoh is probally above half this list on defense. Though i never say players will be great, because i never know how things turn out with work ethic, politics and the team chemistry, Udoh if he has good work ethic, and the team believes in him will be a big time player.
Thank you very much. I also think Udoh will be a great pro, because of reasons stated in the article. Staying out of foul trouble is so important but is often overlooked. Playing in the fourth quarter with 3 fouls rather then 5 is a huge difference, because guys with 5 fouls are forced to play a Matador type defense. Plus, how soon do you allow your opponent to get into the penalty, where all fouls are two free throws?
So many games are won and lost by 3-5 points, that these types of mental mistakes are heart breakers and show up more in the standings then personal stats.
In regards to big men that pass; it really allows the offense to flow, and helps the offensive big because he'll receive less double teams, and his teammates will actually want to pass him the ball. Sometimes when you pass the ball to a big man, it's a waste of time to cut to the basket because can't or won't pass you the ball. You're better off feeding the post and going for a rebound or just getting back on defense.
Little things like this, lead me to believe that Ekpe is a winner; he gets it!
most complete big man in 2010 draft!
Great article, I hopped on Udoh's band-wagon the first game I saw him play....The power forward position in this years draft is looking extremely deep.
Favors, Monroe, Motiejunas, Davis, Udoh, Patterson to name a few
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