Ekpe Udoh is about to become a very rich young man. It's not certain exactly when his name will be called on the evening of June 24, but it appears that it won't take long for the Baylor Bears power forward to find a home. He is widely expected to be among the first 14 players selected in the NBA draft.
That's called a lottery pick and that's called hitting the jackpot.
Udoh, a junior last season, certainly worked for it. He was barely on the radar after spending two years at Michigan where he was known as a shot-blocker but limited offensively. After transferring to Baylor, he sat out the 2008-09 season and worked relentlessly on his offensive game. He produced big-time for the Bears, helping to take them to the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's history.
Displaying an array of offensive ability, from post-ups to dribble-drives to mid-range jumpers, he quickly became one of the most-watched college prospects in the land. Some at least had him as a blip on their radar screen before his breakout season.
"One of our big scouts is in Detroit, Don Sicko, when Udoh didn’t get much playing time up there, he kept just writing him up, saying you’ve got to track this guy regardless," said Ryan Blake, the NBA's director of scouting. "And once he hits, you’ve got to be ready for him, he’s going to explode if he continues to work."
Udoh set a Big 12 Conference record for blocks and averaged 9.8 rebounds, results the Bears coaching staff half expected. But, Udoh's 13.9 points a game on 49 percent shooting and 2.7 assists completely changed the dynamics of the Bears' previously perimeter-based offense.
The 6-10, 240-pounder continued to produce at high level through the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA tournament, further cementing his place as a lottery pick.
"He also had a maturation process that went along through the year and his confidence was what really absorbed in him because regardless what level you go to, whether it’s high school to college or college to the pros, some people can be the greatest athlete and very good on the court, but lose confidence and basically they don’t have it," Blake said. "I think with him, getting into the Big Dance and keeping himself focused was really, really big, so I think that really helped. He is a smart kid."
Now, where will Udoh land?
That's a toss up. The various mock drafts have him going anywhere from No. 7 to No. 14 in the draft. Those teams, in order, are Detroit, the LA Clippers, Utah, Indiana, New Orleans, Memphis, Toronto and Houston.
In Chad Ford's latest mock draft (version 3.0) on ESPN.com, he has Udoh headed to the Houston Rockets with the No. 14 pick. And only two of the 12 mock drafts featured on NBA.com do not include Udoh among the top 14.
There are some concerns that Udoh, despite possessing a remarkable wing span of 7-foot-4 inches, won't be physical enough or have the leaping ability to battle the top power forwards in the league.
"It’s going to be a little bit more physical, he’s going to have to get stronger, but I think with his opportunity, I think he is going to be able to reach that," Blake said. "I don’t know at what level because he’s still developing."