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Finally at Full Strength, Ubiles Primed to Make NBA Leap

After coming out of Siena as a viable NBA prospect, Edwin Ubiles spent all of 2010-11 rehabbing an injury. Now, he's healthy, and among the NBA D-League's very best.

After leaving Siena as a viable NBA prospect, Edwin Ubiles spent all of 2010-11 rehabbing an injury. Now, he's quickly become one of the NBA D-League's best prospects.
Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images

Right around the time Edwin Ubiles and his Siena teammates were busy shattering your bracket, he was doing the same thing to his right leg.

The pain started in his junior year, a month or so before the Saints pulled off their second straight upset in the NCAA Tournament. The lump in his leg followed soon after. Then, during his senior year at Siena, Ubiles noticed he wasn’t getting as much lift as he used to.

So while the Saints kept winning, Ubiles kept scoring and his draft stock went higher and higher, the third-leading scorer in school history kept going lower and lower.

“I felt the difference in my athleticism from my freshman and sophomore year in college,” he said. “By my junior and senior year I felt a tremendous difference. I remember when I was a freshman, I used to get way above the rim. Then as my senior year went on, I couldn’t jump as high.”

It wasn’t until after he wrapped up a brilliant showing (15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals) at the 2010 Portsmouth Invitational – a yearly event that brings together dozens of NBA hopefuls for one last chance to compete in front of scouts before the Draft -- that he knew he couldn’t pretend anymore. He got the tests done. Stress fracture. Right tibia. He’d been playing on it for a year and a half.

So, after spending the weeks before the 2010 NBA Draft steadily scaling the draft boards, he had surgery, he toppled off of them and eventually missed the entire 2010-11 season. He didn’t play again until a short stint with Puerto Rican club team Indios de Mayaguez in the spring.

“I kept trying to go to those games and camps, trying to play on it while not being 100 percent, but I’m pretty sure they would’ve figured it out after a while,” Ubiles said. “And [NBA teams] probably wouldn’t have picked me up, so I had to make a choice and get the surgery. Get it over with and grind it out.”

Now, Ubiles – a 6-foot-6 swingman with the NBA Development League’s Dakota Wizards – is back. He’ll admit that his right leg isn’t quite as strong as the left yet, but it’s getting there. But his burst is back. He can beat anybody off the dribble from the wing, right or left. And if you give him an opening, he’ll be glad to show you the couple inches he’s tacked back onto his vertical leap.

And after a summer that saw him start four games (and average 9.8 points per game) for Puerto Rico’s gold medal-winning squad at the Pan American Games (a team that included NBA players J.J. Barea and Carlos Arroyo), Ubiles has rocketed to the upper echelon of the NBA D-League’s top prospects. With a rare concoction of size and speed and an even rarer ability to defend everyone from the perimeter to the paint, he’s spent the year rounding out a game that once made him a viable NBA Prospect – with a broken leg, mind you.

“I think I’m holding up pretty well,” Ubiles said. “It’s the first full season for me, so I’m getting back into it. I feel good. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far. How far I’ve come.”

“It hasn’t been an issue ever,” said Dakota coach Nate Bjorkgren about Ubiles’ leg. “It’s been a non-issue since Day One.”

From the start of the year, the Wizards knew they had something special. The only problem was that the Bakersfield Jam were the ones that picked him. So, to get him to Dakota – and, more importantly, place under the watchful eye of the Warriors organization, where Ubiles spent NBA training camp – the Wizards had to send longtime NBA D-League star and fan favorite Renaldo Major to Bakersfield, along with their own No. 1 pick, Osiris Eldridge.

The deal paid off immediately.

Ubiles scored 25 on opening night, chipping in seven assists and six rebounds. He only had 10 the next night, but made up for it by grabbing eight boards and blocking two shots.

To date, Ubiles is sixth in the league in scoring (21.2 points per game) among players who’ve played 10 or more games this season. He hasn’t scored less than 10 points in any game. And he’s broken the 25-point barrier seven times – three times in his past four games.

There aren’t many players in the NBA Development League who can wear out a scoreboard like Ubiles. Justin Dentmon’s one of them. Blake Ahearn, too. But there aren’t many players who can get to the NBA just on the strength of their scoring, and that’s where Ubiles still has a few steps to take.

“He’s a good 2-guard, a good shooting guard,” said Dakota assistant coach Vitaly Potapenko, a veteran of 11 NBA seasons. “But he’s a rookie, you know – he needs to adopt a professional game. Here, there are bigger players, stronger players.”

He’s learning how to compete with them, though. At Siena, Ubiles never averaged more than 4.9 rebounds per game in any of his four seasons. This year, against professional ballplayers with professional bodies, he’s pulling down 5.8 a game – including 12 against Tulsa on Dec. 9.

He’s also creating at a rate far above what he ever managed at school. His most productive distribution year at Siena saw him deliver 2.3 assists per game. In his first year with the Wizards, he’s averaging 3.5 a game, showing a knack for drawing the defense to him and finding the forgotten man.

“He can do a little of everything,” Bjorkgren said. “He’s got good size. He can pass it. He can rebound. He sees the floor well. He’s got a really good mid-range game. He’s got a really good first step, and he can hit that perimeter jumper. He’s got the size and the skill to get there.”

He just needs a break, Bjorkgren said. Like so many NBA D-Leaguers, it’s now just a matter of time – and, just as importantly, timing – for a player who looks built and bound for the NBA.

“Obviously, coming out of college I was on draft broads, and a lot of scouts were looking at me, especially after Portsmouth,” Ubiles said. “I had a really good Portsmouth, but I had to shut it down after that. It may have shut me down [in scouts’ eyes] a little bit. It may have set me back a little bit, but I overcame it.

“And I have some eyes still watching.”