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Baylor's Ekpe Udoh having a devil of a time

NCAA TOURNAMENT

Rising Bears face Duke with a spot in the Final Four on the line.

March 27, 2010|By Chris Hine

Reporting from Houston — Mention Duke or Coach K to Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, and a broad, awestruck smile comes across his face.

"Coach K, man, I probably would have gone to Duke," Udoh said Saturday. "I just admire that man. He's a legend. Any time I'm in the same building I would like to shake his hand, just for what he has done for the game."

In fact, in 2008, when Udoh was transferring from Michigan, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils had interest in luring him, but Udoh said his desire to move close to his home in Edmond, Okla., led him to Baylor.

But, he added, "If I just would have opened it up, I probably would have been a Blue Devil."

Instead, third-seeded Baylor (28-7) and Udoh will square off Sunday in the NCAA tournament's South Regional against top-seeded Duke (32-5) with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

This level of success is something new for Baylor, and especially for the wide-eyed, 6-foot-10 junior who is taking the time to relish every detail of the Bears' run — from the police escorts, to riding around the stadium in golf carts and even getting his own interview table.

"I think the program has arrived and people are starting to see us as a national program now," Udoh said.

It also has been a heck of a year for Udoh, who has transformed himself from a transfer trying to find his niche to one of the best players in the country — and someone who has caught the attention of NBA scouts.

Udoh has a good relationship with former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and decided to transfer after spending one year under current Michigan Coach John Beilein.

Udoh already had a reputation for being a solid defensive player, but while he sat out a season per NCAA rules, he molded his offensive skills with former Baylor assistant Matthew Driscoll. That aspect of his game surprised Krzyzewski when he watched Udoh (who averages 13.8 points a game) on film.

But then there's Udoh's meal ticket, his defense, specifically his propensity to block and influence shots. Udoh was tops in the Big 12 Conference this season and fifth in the country with 3.7 blocks per game.

"It's mainly timing," Udoh said. "At some point in your career, it has to become an art, something you truly love to do."

Udoh's favorite type of blocked shot is one where he can surprise his victim. Maybe he is driving the baseline, and doesn't see Udoh coming out of the corner of his eye, or maybe he's on a fastbreak and has to look to see if Udoh is on his trail.

"That's what I have on other people," Udoh said. "I just try to alter the game in different facets."

But Sunday, he isn't going to sneak up on Duke.

"He's one of the better players in the country and I can see why he's rated so high in the NBA," Krzyzewski said.

chine@tribune.com

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