Golden State Warriors rookie Ekpe Udoh got off of the team bus on Wednesday night in Washington expecting to play against the agile Wizards frontcourt. The scouting report his coaches gave him stressed the athleticism and versatility of JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis. Udoh knew that type of game would work in his favor. What Udoh did not expect: to hear Golden State coach Keith Smart tell him that he’d get his first NBA start.
“Man, coach just walked by me and whispered something, but I really didn’t hear him at first,” Udoh said after the 106-102 Warriors win with a big smile on his face. “Then he told me that I would be starting and I was just surprised, but I did my best to calm down and just be ready.”
After the game, Smart explained his rationale for starting Udoh over Andris Biedrins:
To his credit, Biedrins was a good sport about the benching, and instead of blaming the coach or even Udoh, his thoughts were very introspective:
“It wasn’t a problem for me because I’m not feeling myself. I’m trying to find out why, because physically and everything else, I feel so great. I don’t have any problems. But mentally, I just can’t get that thing right. That’s why me and coach talked, and we’ll just try to find some other way to get me back on the track. If that’s coming off the bench, so be it.”
Udoh may have had the chance to start for Biedrins much earlier in the season, were it not for the wrist injury he suffered last July — right before training camp was scheduled to begin. Since returning from the injury on December 10, Udoh has averaged 3.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just under 15 minutes per game. He had his best game of the year on February 10 when he tallied 16 points and seven rebounds in a blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns.
Udoh’s first start was just what you’d expect out of a rookie. In 30 minutes of play he had six points, three blocked shots, four personal fouls and a surprisingly low two rebounds. His lone highlight came with 7:35 left in the third quarter. Andray Blatche turned and tried to shoot a short jumper, Udoh blocked it right into JaVale McGee’s hands. McGee then tried his hand at scoring on Udoh. No such luck, another block for the rook. After the game, Udoh was critical of his own performance:
“I was nervous out there, so when you take that into account, I thought I played pretty well. Obviously, I have to rebound a lot better on both ends of the floor, and I have to finish my opportunities around the basket. Plus, in the fourth quarter when we got a big lead, I think all of us got a little relaxed and we let them back in the game, so I have to work on that too.”
When I asked Udoh who was the toughest Wizard to guard, he barely let me get the question out before answering:
“[Trevor] Booker man, it was Booker. He was everywhere. They were sluggish for three quarters, and he came in there and gave them energy. He was finishing plays, he was just a beast out there man. I’m not sure why he didn’t play more, but I’m glad he didn’t. He was everywhere.”
Mr. Udoh, you, me, and several Wizards bloggers are all wondering why Mr. Booker (seven points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes) doesn’t play a bit more.
[Rashad Mobley is from the Washington, D.C. area and has been covering the Washington Wizards with credentials for three years. To learn more about him click here. To follow him on Twitter: @Rashad20.]