Bucks’ Baylor backer thrilled with title conquest

Udoh gives props to Griner, national champion teammates

Ekpe Udoh
Udoh helped lead Baylor all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional at Houston, where the team lost to Duke 78-71 and wound up with a program record of 28 wins and 8 losses.

Ekpe Udoh was an impact player during the one season of basketball he played for Baylor University in 2009-10.

Udoh, who was acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks along with Monta Ellis in exchange for Andrew Bogut in a March 14 trade with the Golden State Warriors, made a powerful enough impact to become a National Basketball Association lottery pick. He was the sixth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft by Golden State.

Before Udoh left Waco, Texas, though, he could see a storm brewing on the horizon. And It became a perfect storm April 2 as the Baylor women’s basketball team completed the first 40-0 season in college basketball history with an 80-61 victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament’s championship game in Denver, Colo.

When the subject was brought up to Udoh as he sat in the Bucks’ locker room the next night, he broke into a big grin and said, “It was a great game, man.”

The 6 foot-10 inch, 245-pound Udoh, who played two seasons at the University of Michigan before transferring to Baylor, had to sit out one season in accord with NCAA rules before becoming eligible to play for the Bears.

When Udoh’s opportunity arrived, he didn’t let it go by, averaging 13.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and blocking a team-high 133 shots.

He was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press, an All-Big 12 Second Team selection by the AP and conference coaches, Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by the AP and conference coaches, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News and was chosen for the Big 12 All-Defensive and Big 12 All-Rookie teams by conference coaches.

Udoh helped lead Baylor all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional at Houston, where the team lost to Duke 78-71 and wound up with a program record of 28 wins and 8 losses.

Ekpe bowed out with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds in the regional championship game.

Before Udoh had even decided to turn the page of his basketball career and enter the professional ranks, another dominant post player had already emerged on the Baylor campus. Udoh never practiced against this player, though.

Brittney Griner arrived in Waco in 2009 following a record-setting prep career at Nimitz High School in Houston, Texas.

The 6-8 Griner, owner of a 7-4 wingspan, was ranked as the nation's premier girls prep player by all of the recruiting services. During her senior year, she dunked the ball 52 times in 32 games and averaged 33 points, 15.5 rebounds, 11.7 blocks, 3.4 steals and 3.1 assists to finish with career totals of 3,114 points, 1,586 rebounds, 939 blocks, 268 steals and 198 assists.

Griner set a National Federation of State High School record with 25 blocked shots in a Nov. 11, 2008 game, dunked seven times in another contest and had a quadruple-double of 36 points, 15 rebounds, 15 blocks and 10 assists in a Dec. 2, 2008 outing. She recorded 19 triple-doubles as a senior and helped Nimitz capture the Class 5A Region III championship and the school's first-ever state tournament berth.

Griner totaled 44 points, 18 rebounds and eight blocks in the state semifinals, setting a Class 5A state tournament single-game scoring record. Nimitz lost in the championship game 52-43 despite Griner’s 22 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocks.

Her high school jersey is one of 25 displayed in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame's Ring of Honor. She was named National Player of the Year by Parade Magazine, the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and USA Today as well as the Gatorade Texas Girls' Player of the Year, Miss Basketball by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches and a McDonald's All-American game.

Griner backed up all of her high school accolades as soon as she began her collegiate career, averaging 18.4 ppg and 8.49 rpg with 223 blocks as a Baylor freshman.

Baylor’s “Big Man on Campus” took notice.

“She was very good then,” Udoh said of Griner. “She has a great touch around the rim, and at 6-8, nobody’s blocking her. She has good post moves.

“She’s been called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’ She’s pretty much unstoppable.”

Udoh was asked if he and his teammates ever took part in any scrimmages or pick-up games against Griner and the Baylor women’s team.

“No,” he replied. “We don’t want their problems, man. Griner would have been in there dunking, though. I’d stay away from her. I wouldn’t want her dunking on me, man.”

The Baylor women’s program has been deemed one of the nation’s best for years. Hall-of-Fame coach Kim Mulkey has amassed a 338-79 record over 12 seasons and guided the team to national championships in 2005 and this year.

The men’s program, on the other hand, had just begin a revival prior to Udoh’s arrival, making the NCAA tourney for the first time in 20 years in 2008.

At some major universities, men’s and women’s basketball teams pay little or no attention to each other’s successes or failures. When Udoh was at Baylor, though, they supported each other.

“We had to,: Udoh said. “It was unique in our situation because were were on our way up. You have to stick together and pull for each other.”

Griner averaged 23 ppg and 7.4 rpg as sophomore, then contributed 23.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg and a nation's-leading 5.2 bpg as a junior and became the first Baylor player -- and the first Big 12 Conference player -- to win the John R. Wooden Award.

She capped her season with 26 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in the national title game and was named the Final Four’s most valuable player.
Udoh has followed the exploits of Griner and the BU women since he turned pro and was thrilled with their national championship conquest.

“Griner has put them on her back and kept them going,” he said. “And they have a great team. Everybody deserves credit.”