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October 23rd, 2010

Uzoh Gets the Point

Nets coach Avery Johnson has spent the preseason hollering at his point guards, riding them throughout while attempting to pass on the knowledge he accumulated during a 16-year playing career and four more suited up at the head of the bench. But he left undrafted rookie Ben Uzoh to figure out one final thing on his own: the 22-year-old had earned the teams final roster spot.

It wasnt anything formal, Uzoh said, after Saturdays practice. There wasnt no hug, and I didnt try to run around the gym in excitement. (But) it is a big deal. I got to my room and I was real happy. Thats when it hit me, when I got to share it with my people.

Uzoh realized Friday that Brian Zoubeks release meant he had solidified his tenuous position, and dialed up his mother to relay the news, continuing on to call his father, sisters and everyone else down the line. All had been checking in and keeping his spirits up, and were excited to hear the news, none moreso than his father, whom Uzoh admitted got a little emotional.

The San Antonio native played college at Tulsa, earning First Team All-Conference USA honors as a senior after averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The Nets invited Uzoh to play on their Summer League team, signing him to a partially guaranteed deal, and he posted averages of 7.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.8 minutes during the five games in Orlando.

During the preason, Uzoh attempted to make his mark on defense while absorbing Johnsons lessons on how to run a team, also trying to draw what he could from matchups against Devin Harris, Jordan Farmar and occasionally Terrence Williams. With late-camp addition Stephen Graham cracking Johnsons rotation (12.6 MPG) as a wing, and the roster at 16 heading into the regular-season opener, the final cut came down to Zoubek and Uzoh.

The 6-foot-3 guards candidacy was bolstered when Zoubek suffered a back injury during training camp, forcing the center to miss four games crucial time during an eight-game preseason. Uzoh played well in 19 minutes against the Sixers on October 5, producing eight points (2-3 FGs), six rebounds and an assist, but didnt get back in for more than six minutes until the preseason finale against Boston. He remained focused throughout, and turned in a solid two-point, two-rebound, one-steal performance. Johnson said Uzohs confidence seemed bolstered following the cut.

He did have a little extra step, Johnson said. He made a three in (todays scrimmage), one that he had been passing up, and he made a tough shot in the paint over both big guys, the 4 and 5 on the opposing team. But he knows right now is basically day-to-day.

Starting to Wing It
Starting wings Anthony Morrow (shooting guard) and Travis Outlaw (small forward) each enter their first season knowing theyll be the starter, and are finally starting to find their niches within Avery Johnsons offensive and defensive schemes. Yesterday, general manager Billy King said that he and Johnson were looking for Outlaw to be more aggressive on offense.

Johnson explained: Selfish isnt always a good word in basketball, but when youre a scorer, youve got to have a scorers mentality.

Im adjusting to it, Outlaw said. At first, I had a little mindset like, If I shoot two in a row, let me try to find something (else). Now, its like, If you feel youve got something, go ahead and go for it. It makes things a lot easier.

Outlaw showed up to camp out of shape, but Johnson enrolled him along with Morrow and Brook Lopez in the teams Breakfast Club of pre-practice weightlifters. Between those morning workouts and post-practice sessions with strength-and-conditioning coach Rich Dalatri, Outlaw has cut weight and body fat while extending his endurance, calling the difference night-and-day.

Morrow, meanwhile, has been focusing on his defense. Having alternated between starter and substitute during his first two NBA seasons, Morrow feels ready to elevate his game as an entrenched starter, and knows where he must improve.

Every game I want to take the challenge of guarding the opposing two-guard, whoever it is, Morrow said. Thats the only way Im going to take the next step in my career and Coach Johnson knows that and hes trying to set me up for it. Guarding (Terrence Williams) every day, an athletic guy like that likes to get to the rim, Im going to have to see guys like that. Were making each other better its good for him to guard me running off screens and stuff like that.

The duo were the only two Nets to start all eight preseason games. Outlaw averaged 9.3 points (.393 3P%) and 4.5 rebounds; and Morrow, 10.6 points (.436 3P%), 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

NETS NOTES Avery said Devin Harris stood out on Saturday, getting back to that Tony Parker style he had years ago: wreaking havoc while making shots and good decisionsTerrence Williams nearly brought the house down literally when he launched a full-court shot that nailed a PNY Center light fixture. After swinging precariously, it returned to a stable position without crashing to the courtForward Troy Murphy remains on schedule to participate in half of Mondays practice.

--Posted by Ben Couch at 4:51 p.m.

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