Disclaimer: Ekpe Udoh is my favorite basketball player in the world.
Occasionally, I am allowed to represent Bucksketball as media at home games. My favorite part is the dinner spread the Bucks provide before games. Oh Lord, the chicken. The Chicken!
My second favorite part is going into the locker room to interview players. Usually, I don’t say anything – I just sit in the scrum, stare like a slack-jawed idiot and think, “I wish I was a little bit taller.”
Udoh completely dwarfs me, but I actually find myself asking him questions while the real reporters are huddled around Monta Ellis. He’s really soft-spoken, so I never understand what he’s saying until I hear it again on my recorder. But I know he’s funny because all the players laugh and one day I will laugh not because of peer pressure, but because I know what he just said.
I will be a part of that world.
Udoh is the ultimate cult player because believing that Udoh is a good player takes a considerable amount of faith. I could throw stats about plus-minus. I could talk about how the team grabs 2.5 percent more defensive rebounds or allows 5 less points per 100 possessions when Udoh is on the court. But that’s just cherry-picking to support my narrative. No one’s going to particularly care about any of that when Udoh is wide open at the free throw line – terrified to shoot.
Udoh’s deficiencies are rather glaring. He’s near the bottom in shooting percentage (.431 FG% for a center!). His rebounding numbers are terrible for his size. He’s not so keen on catching the ball and if he does, the issue of him dribbling arises.
What Udoh does do is so freaking subtle, it’s almost nonexistent and takes some serious logical steps to see why it matters. Of course the Bucks grab more defensive rebounds when Udoh’s on the court. Udoh bumps his man out of the paint before the entry pass. Before the shot goes up, he’s already made rebounding easier for his team.
He keeps his hands and feet active. He sets hard picks and shows just as hard when defending them. When he’s not part of a set, he still adds value with his spacing. Drew Gooden just stands around like a goof. This stuff is important, you guys!
Basketball is supposed to belong to the world-conquerors. Udoh has those moments when someone decides to dunk it at the wrong time, but he mostly spends his time on the ground with the rest of the plebs just trying to make his hardest to make it to the next moment. What’s so special about one of the lesser players in the league? That he still has something valuable to contribute in a world where Lebron James exists.