We all love the NCAA tournament, but as NBA fans we watch it with a different eye — who is going to be coming out of this showcase and on to the NBA. This is the first of a series of posts over the next couple of days highlighting players to watch.
Plenty of casual fans filling out their brackets — after being confused about not being able to find North Carolina on it anywhere — couldn’t figure out how Baylor got to be a three seed. Baylor? What have they got?
What they have is one of the best offenses in college basketball this season — 119.6 points per 100 possessions, fifth best in the nation. They can score, as poor Sam Houston State will find out. But it is not Baylor’s scoring leader — LaceDarius Dunn — that NBA scouts are watching.
It is junior center Ekpe Udoh, the 6’10” Baylor center who translates to a power forward at the NBA level. The online draft bible DraftExpress has him going at the end of the lottery (currently 13 in their mock draft).
For more info on Udoh, we went to the source for some exclusive comments to ProBasketballTalk — Draft Express’ Assistant Director of Scouting Joe Treutlein (a guy NBA teams should be scouting themselves):
“Ekpe Udoh is one of the more interesting guys in the draft this year, mainly because after sitting out a year transferring from Michigan to Baylor, he’s completely reinvented his game, making leaps and bounds as a player. He has a nice arsenal of moves in both back-to-the-basket and face-up situations, while showing a pretty good feel for the game as well. His learning curve is the most intriguing part about him, though, given the strides he’s made in the last two years.”
This game may not be that entertaining — Sam Houston State plays pretty good defense but will not slow Baylor much. And they have nobody who can physically match up with Udoh. But as Baylor advances, it will be interesting to see what Udoh does against other top bigs in the tournament.
LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.
Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):
When we first met I was just a kid.
Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.
But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.
You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.
Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.
You witnessed my fears morph into strength.
Your rejection taught me courage.
Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.
What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.
I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.
I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.
My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.
Thank you for this incredible journey.
It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.
But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.
The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.
On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:
The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.
LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.
Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:
“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game. Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.
“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”
Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.
Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.
Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.
CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.
However, his recovery may have hit a snag.
“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”
An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.