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Scott Howard-Cooper

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The Warriors' lottery pick faces immediate challenges before he gets on the floor.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Image

Lottery pick needs a dose of patience as season starts


Posted Sep 17 2010 9:08PM

He missed summer league, was forced to keep it in neutral the rest of the offseason that was supposed to be the most exciting time of his basketball life, and now Ekpe Udoh is heading into a training camp that mostly will involve practicing one thing.

Patience.

The No. 6 pick in the draft is expected to be sidelined until mid-season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist in July. That is far off. October -- the first full week of Warriors workouts, exhibition games, the Warriors opener on the 27th -- is coming quick. Months are passing, months that are especially important in the learning curve of a rookie.

The frustration was practically tangible when he got the news soon after coming to the Bay Area. He will not, curiously, discuss the origin of the injury. He will only say that he was "really down" the time and is doing better emotionally now since he gets to spend time around his new teammates. The Warriors camp opens on Sept. 27th and he will can still have a successful 2010-11, truncated as it may be.

"I want to get back January, February," Udoh said.

And then?

"I'm going to shoot out. I'm going to everywhere when I get that chance. Practice, whatever. You're gonna miss the game. When I get out there, I'm just going to be an animal."

So that's settled. Which leaves only the three or four months of watching and missing valuable development time.

The Warriors did not know about the injury before the draft, general manager Larry Riley said. Asked if it would have changed the call that night if there were signs of a pre-existing condition, he paused, then said, "I doubt it. I wasn't thrust into that position, but I doubt it." The Warriors, notorious sieves, wanted to get better inside, they feel like Udoh can provide rebounding and shot blocking even without much of an interior presence on offense, and it was done.

Once Udoh had the surgery -- "it would be my opinion that he probably had that thing jammed or something during some of his workouts somewhere and finished it off right here, but he was just thinking, 'OK, I've got a sore wrist or whatever,' " Riley said -- everyone knew it had become about the waiting game. When Udoh was able to begin running and cardio drills a couple weeks ago, he still had a weighty cast from the hand almost to the elbow. And that was an improvement. The first cast went up to the bicep and made it impossible to run without some flailing motion coming from the branch connected to his left shoulder.

At least now he can do some things to keep in shape, even is clearance to jump in for serious basketball drills is still far in the distance. Making matters worse for Udoh, he plays power forward, the same position as David Lee, the marquee offseason addition for Golden State, Brandan Wright, the one-time lottery pick coming off a season ruined by a shoulder injury, and Louis Amundson, signed last week to provide energy and toughness. The position is a crowded house.

But, if the schedule holds and Udoh makes it back somewhere close to the All-Star break, he can still log meaningful minutes; the season isn't washed out now. He can still play with one of the other power forwards, particularly given Lee's experience as a center with the Knicks and the Warriors propensity for smallball.

"I know I'm going to be back," Udoh said. "It wasn't a career-ending injury. When I come and work out, I've got to put in work as if I'm playing in the first game... Coming in extra. Coming in early, leaving late. Just because I'm injured doesn't mean I've got to be disconnected from the team."

Doing its part to avoid that from happening, the team in turn says it will keep Udoh close to make sure he feels involved. He will travel to road games, even during the exhibition season, unless needing to rehab at the practice facility in Oakland or see the surgeon in San Francisco takes priority.

"His commitment is not in question," Riley said. "But it has to be boring for a guy to go through training camp and just watch two practices a day. I think he has the ability to do that. We'll stay with it. We would normally do some extra work and keep him involved anyway."

Boring and frustrating. Boring and disappointing.

Boring and unavoidable.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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