“The Opportunist”

Veteran guard Udrih giving Bucks lift during March/April climb

Drew Gooden
“Coming from a basketball family, I had a lot of support,” Beno said. “It was great. I grew up trying to play basketball the right way from the get-go, trying to share the ball and not trying to be selfish.”

Beno Udrih is climbing through his window of opportunity.

And he’s trying to help pull the Milwaukee Bucks get through theirs.

The veteran guard, who just turned 30 years old April 5, came to Milwaukee from the Sacramento Kings in the three-team June 23, 2011 deal that also brought Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to the Bucks and sent Corey Maggette to the Charlotte Bobcats.

In 234 career games as an NBA starter prior to this year, Udrih had averaged 13.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds and was playing nearly 32 minutes a game.

Through Milwaukee’s first 59 games of this season, Udrih had not made a start and was averaging 6.3 ppg and 4 apg in 18.6 minutes per outing.

Udrih’s numbers have been on the climb, though, during the past month and a half as his minutes have received a bump.

And Udrih’s upgrades have coincided with the Bucks’ best stretch of basketball this season.

Udrih’s playing time increased from a season-low 16 mpg in February to season-high 21.8 mpg in March and stood at 18.3 mpg through first seven games of April.

Udrih scored 125 points in 17 March games, bettering his previous high monthly total (from February) by 50 points. He also handed out 92 assists in March -- 45 more than his previous high (from February). Most importantly, the Bucks’ 10-7 record in March was their best monthly mark this season, and they were off to a 5-2 start to April, hanging two games out of a playoff berth.

“It’s prideful, but this is a smaller thing we’ve done right now,” Udrih said. “We’re trying to look at the bigger picture and trying to get to the playoffs and get as far as we can.

“It’s a team effort. We don’t have selfish players. I’ve always believed basketball is a team sport. It doesn’t matter where each player is individually; it’s team first. “

Udrih has always remained true to those roots. They can be traced back to his homeland of Slovenia, where he grew up in a basketball family. His father, Silvo, played pro ball in Slovenia and his older brother, Samo, attended Dallas Mavericks training camp in 2005 and is now playing professionally in Spain. Both Samo and Beno have played for the Slovenian National Team.

“Coming from a basketball family, I had a lot of support,” Beno said. “It was great. I grew up trying to play basketball the right way from the get-go, trying to share the ball and not trying to be selfish.”

Beno admired and emulated several boyhood heroes, too. Foremost among them was the late Drazen Petrovic, a Yugoslavian and Croatian basketball icon who became a star with the New Jersey Nets before being killed in a car accident at the age of 28. Beno also enjoyed watching Michael Jordan and Kevin Johnson, who were NBA All-Stars during his youth.

Beno’s father and brother were not domineering toward him when it came to basketball, though, and he is grateful for that.

“My dad never forced me to play basketball,” Beno said. “He basically let me find myself. He taught me how to play basketball, but I was doing all kinds of sports, too, like soccer and volleyball. Somehow I ended up with basketball, I started loving it and I never looked back.”

Beno made his pro debut with a brief stint in the Slovenian secondary league in 1997, followed by three seasons in the UPC Telemach League, the country’s top league. He was named the 2000 Slovenian League Rookie of the Year, and has played for the Slovenian national team since then.

He played for Olimpija Ljubljana from 2000–2002 and made his Euroleague debut during that span. He played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2002–2003 season, then split the 2003–2004 season among Avtodor Saratov (Russia) and Breil Milano (Italy). He was named most valuable player of the 2004 Efes Cup in Turkey after leading Slovenia to a 4-0 record, averaging 16.8 ppg and 4.8 apg.

Udrih was selected by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the first round of the 2004 National Basketball Association Draft. He had his first United States basketball experience in the weeks that followed, competing for the Spurs in the Southern California Summer Pro League  He also played three games with the Spurs squad in the 2004 Reebok Rocky Mountain Revue, averaging 10.3 ppg, 5 apg and 4.7 rpg and shooting .542 from the field.

In his NBA rookie campaign, Udrih won a Rookie of the Month award and was chosen to the Rookie Team for the Rookie Challenge during All Star Weekend. He went on to average 5.9 ppg and 1.9 apg during the regular season, then contributed 3.7 ppg and 1 apg in 21 playoff contests as the Spurs won the NBA championship.

Udrih spent his first three NBA seasons with San Antonio, winning another championship ring in 2007.

On October 27, 2007, Udrih was traded by the Spurs to the Minnesota Timberwolves and immediately waived. He was later signed by Sacramento, and following an injury to starting point guard Mike Bibby, Udrih seized his opportunity and averaged 12.8 ppg, 4.3 apg and 3.3 rpg in 32 mpg in 2007–08.

Udrih was a consistent, steadying influence for the Kings over four seasons and averaged career bests of 13.7 ppg and 4.9 apg last season.

His trade and transition to the Bucks were not easy for him, particularly because he was playing half the minutes to which he had grown accustomed.

“I was averaging 16 to 18 minutes a game,” he said. “I wasn’t getting many shots. In 16 minutes, a lot of times you pass the ball and don’t get it back. It’s hard to get a decent amount of shots up. If you get one a game and you miss it, it’s 0 percent and that counts. If you get three or four and you’re 2 for 4 or 3 for 4, that makes a big difference.

“I just kept trying to play basketball the right way. If I feel comfortable, or if I get the basketball at the right time, I’ll shoot it. But if I get the ball with 3 seconds to go on the shot clock and the defense is right there, that’s not a shot I want to take. I just try to play the right way.”

As the season turned into March and April, Udrih began receiving more opportunities and he hasn’t disappointed.

He handed out a season-high 10 assists in a 121-84 victory over Cleveland on March 30.

Then he tallied a season-high 21 points – sharing team-high honors -- and distributed six assists in 116-94 win over Portland on April 7 during a 27-minute stint.

Udrih’s extended presence in the lineup has helped the Bucks take over the NBA lead in assists per game. They were averaging 23.9 per contest through April 13.

“It’s a team effort,” Udrih said. “We don’t have selfish players. I’ve always believed basketball is a team sport. It doesn’t matter where each player is individually; it’s team first.

“When I was with San Antonio in my first three years, we had guys who shared the ball. It helps when you have outside shooters. Guys like Mike Dunleavy and ‘Ers’ (Ersan Ilyasova) can knock down the open shot and that makes a big difference. Monta (Ellis) is a guy who can attack the basket, but he also does a good job of finding open people, and that has helped us as well.”

Help is important -- especially if you’re an NBA basketball team trying to climb through a window and into the playoffs.