Prototype Piston?

Baylor's Udoh embodies blue-collar values Joe D seeks

Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh has the defensive mind-set and work ethic that Joe Dumars is seeking.
Chris Graythen (Getty Images)
Editor’s note: continues its series of draft profiles today with a look at Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, one of the players who could be under consideration when the Pistons pick at No. 7 in the June 24 draft. Next: Cole Aldrich.

Joe Dumars made his first extended comments since the season ended earlier this week and spoke of a return to Pistons core values of grit and toughness. That alone might elevate Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh a few notches on the Pistons’ evaluation list.

Perhaps no player now considered a lottery pick came from farther outside the field since the start of the college basketball season than Udoh, a Baylor junior who spent his first two college years at Michigan – brought there as an unheralded recruit out of Oklahoma by Tommy Amaker – before transferring after one season under John Beilein.

The redshirt year at Baylor not only transformed Udoh’s body into a thickly muscled 237 pounds on a 6-foot-9¾ frame, it also allowed him to transform his game, adding a reliable mid-range jump shot and the ability to put the ball on the floor to a player who had been considered strictly a shot-blocker, rebounder and defender.

Udoh is going to impress teams as he makes the rounds over the next three-plus weeks leading to the June 24 draft with his demeanor. He’s got a firm handshake, speaks well and earnestly, looks you in the eye when he talks and uses “sir” routinely. He’ll be 23 on draft night, which will cut both ways. Udoh is mature enough, physically and emotionally, to contribute immediately but scouts might wonder how much improvement is possible, even after he exhibited such phenomenal progress in the past year.

“I never get upset with that,” Udoh said at last week’s Chicago draft combine when asked about the age vs. potential question. “If you look at the kids in this draft, the first two rounds, everybody’s got talent. You’ve got to come in with your construction hat on and get ready to work.”

More on Ekpe Udoh

College: Baylor
Size: 6-foot-9¾ , 237 pounds
Age: 23 on draft night

The good: High marks for character and work ethic, as his stunning progress as a junior at Baylor after two years at Michigan revealed. … Big-time shot-blocker and solid rebounder with emerging offensive skill set.

The bad: Scouts are going to question how much better he can get at 23. … A better offensive than defensive rebounder who some fear might lack the explosiveness, despite good timing, to have his shot-blocking skills fully translate to the NBA.

The skinny: There will be players with more pure talent on the board at No. 7 when the Pistons are on the clock, but it wouldn’t be a stunner to see them grab Udoh, who has the mind-set and tenacity Joe Dumars is seeking and he looks to make the Pistons a tougher team.

Talk like that will be music to the ears of Dumars, who has put a “whatever it takes” mantra on the task of restoring the Pistons to NBA relevance. Udoh talked in Chicago about his admiration for the player who parlayed just such a construction-hat mentality into four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, Ben Wallace.

“I would love to learn behind him,” Udoh said. “He’s such a great guy and he’s been doing such a great job. That would be a great opportunity.”

Udoh averaged 13.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots per game for Baylor, which came within one game of advancing to the Final Four, eliminated in the regional finals by eventual NCAA champion Duke in a game that did much to elevate Udoh’s stock. Against the Blue Devils and 7-footer Brian Zoubek, a potential second-round draft choice, Udoh had 18 points, 10 boards and five blocked shots. He also dished out six assists in that game, a skill he rarely flashed during his two years at Michigan. Udoh put up 16 double-doubles in his year at Baylor, including a 12-point, 20-rebound game in a win at South Carolina.

While the refinements to his game make him a lottery candidate, it will be Udoh’s bedrock defense, rebounding and shot-blocking – and his potential to become an impact NBA defender – that will have the Pistons weighing him against players with perhaps higher ceilings at the No. 7 pick. And he no doubt left them with the impression after his Chicago face-to-face interview with Dumars and his staff that he relishes the challenge of playing NBA-caliber defense.

“Something about stopping somebody, it gets me going,” Udoh said. “You get a critical stop, it wins championships. It’s something I love – blocking shots, just getting everybody going. The next time, they’re going to look you right in the eye and say, ‘Oh, man, here he comes again.’ ”

While Udoh might be slightly undersized at a shade under 6-foot-10 to play against the league’s top centers, his wing span of 7-foot-4½ was seventh among all prospects measured at the NBA draft combine behind Hassan Whiteside, Larry Sanders, Jerome Jordan, Solomon Alabi, Cole Aldrich and DeMarcus Cousins but ahead of others such as Greg Monroe (7-foot-2¼) and Ed Davis (7-foot-0), further suggesting his shot-blocking skills will translate to the NBA.

Udoh also embraces the opportunity before him in the weeks leading up to the draft to go head to head with many of the players who also figure to be under consideration by the Pistons – Monroe, Aldrich, Whiteside and Davis among them.

“They’re all great players, great athletes,” he said. “Whenever I have a chance, it’s going to be a good battle, a great battle. I hope to see them.”