Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Oregonian: Hard work gives him that edge

Hard work gives him that edge
Spurs forward and former Portland State star Ime Udoka wants to expand his game and "stay sharp"
Saturday, August 09, 2008
The Oregonian Staff

The opening of NBA training camps is almost eight weeks away, but Ime Udoka is busy preparing himself for the upcoming season.

"You have to stay sharp," Udoka said. "I'm not gonna change what got me here. I'm not gonna be complacent."

Udoka, entering his third full season, could be the second-most prominent NBA player from Oregon and southwest Washington next season. Only Kevin Love, a rookie with Minnesota, figures to get more playing time, barring injury.

The only other player from an area high school with a guaranteed contract is Thomas Gardner. The rest are hoping that hard work during the summer will result in securing a roster spot in the fall, a goal Udoka achieved two years ago with the Trail Blazers.

Udoka's role and playing time probably will increase as he begins his second season with the San Antonio Spurs. Udoka's minutes increased during the playoffs last season, when the Spurs lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

Personnel changes have thinned the Spurs' depth at the wing position, creating an opportunity for Udoka. Brent Barry is now with Phoenix and Michael Finley might not return to San Antonio. Bruce Bowen, 37 and entering his 13th season, Manu Ginobili and Udoka are the Spurs' remaining wing players. Udoka plans to arrive at training camp ready to start the season in coach Gregg Popovich's regular rotation.

Udoka, 31, a former Portland State star, has been working to expand his game beyond being the "heir apparent" to Bowen as a defensive specialist and three-point shooter.

"I don't want to limit myself to just being a spot-up shooter," Udoka said. "I'm going to try to get to the basket a little more and do a few more things like pass the ball."

Udoka doesn't know how to stop working, especially after having right ankle surgery in July that delayed his offseason workouts. His attitude is the result of playing for several seasons in the International Basketball League, National Basketball Development League and overseas before his breakthrough with the Blazers.

"It's a matter of improving myself," Udoka said. "I'm going to be watching a lot of tape and do a lot of the mental (preparation) this summer. I want to go into camp on top of things offensively and defensively

A solid, injury-free season in 2008-09 could land Udoka a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract next summer.

"They always say guys in San Antonio have a better second year than first year because you have a year under your belt and you're a lot more comfortable," Udoka said. "If I play well this year, I'll go into next summer with some options."

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