WACO, Texas – Ekpe Udoh's ability to block shots has earned him one of the best nicknames in college basketball.
"The Nightmare," people call him. For Baylor fans, though, the 6-foot-10 Michigan transfer has been anything but a bad dream.
Ten games into first season with the Bears, Udoh already is being hailed as one of the top players in school history.
He leads the Big 12 with 3.9 blocks per game and ranks second in rebounds (9.8). But it's Udoh's offensive production that has caught the attention of NBA scouts. Udoh – who averaged just six points as a starter at Michigan in 2007-08 – is scoring 14.6 points per contest for the 9-1 Bears, who play Arkansas on Wednesday in North Little Rock.
"We knew he was a great defender," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Like everyone else, I think we've been pleasantly surprised with how good he is offensively."
What makes Udoh such a threat is his versatility. He has a soft touch under the basket, but he has enough range to make him a threat from 10-12 feet out. Every now and then he'll even launch a 3-pointer.
Even more impressive is Udoh's ball-handling ability. It's not uncommon for him to catch the ball at the top of the key, turn his back to his defender and then spin and juke his way to the basket for an easy layup.
For a moment you almost forget that he's 6-10.
Two draft Web sites – draftexpress.com and nbadraft.net – are predicting that Udoh will be a first-round pick in this summer's NBA draft should he choose to leave school. Only one Baylor player in the past 27 years (Brian Skinner in 1998) has been selected in the first round.
Drew, obviously, is hoping Udoh stays.
With sharpshooter LaceDarius Dunn returning for one more season and Perry Jones – the No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2010, according to Rivals.com – already signed, the Bears could have one of the top teams in school history should Udoh choose to return.
In the meantime, the Bears will do everything they can to ride his back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years. A week ago, Udoh came up one block short of posting the fifth triple-double in school history.
"He gets credited with a lot of blocked shots," Drew said. "But just like those hurry stats in football … he alters so many other shots as well."
Udoh's full name is pronounced Epp-Ay You-Doe. His parents hail from Nigeria. He wears No. 13 because his middle name is Friday. Moments after his near triple-double against Texas-Arlington last week, Udoh answered questions from Yahoo! Sports.
Q: You signed with Michigan when Tommy Amaker was the coach. You played one season for him and one season for John Beilein and then decided to transfer. Why?
A: Coach Amaker meant a great deal to me. Before I went to Michigan I tore my shoulder up and had surgery the August before my senior year. For him to stick with me and continue to recruit me … that meant a lot to me. I was loyal to him.
Q: Did you not like Coach Beilein?
A: That wasn't it at all. He's a genius. You can see how well he had them playing last year. They're starting to get it. He's an excellent coach. Things just didn't work out for me. I was having to learn a whole new system and it just really wasn't for me. I thought I'd see what other kinds of opportunities were out there.
Q: How tough was it to leave?
A: Very tough. They tried to get me to stay. I was really close with a couple of the players there. That was really weighing on my heart. It was great up there, even though it was cold.
Q: You grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma. Had Baylor been on your radar when you were in high school?
A: Not really. I came to a camp down here but that was about it. The only schools that really recruited me and offered up front were Michigan and Pittsburgh.
Q: No Oklahoma? No Oklahoma State? You must've felt overlooked.
A: They came in at the end but it was too late by that point. And, yeah, I felt that way. Players always think they're better than other players.
Q: You led the Big Ten in blocks in 2007-08, so everyone knew that was your strength. How did you develop the offensive side of your game? I understand former Baylor assistant Matt Driscoll – who's now the head coach at North Florida – helped you quite a bit.
A: Exactly. Last year, when I had to sit out, Coach Driscoll and I would get on the court before practices and before games and work on all kinds of stuff. Catching it on the perimeter and working my way toward the basket, block moves, shooting drills – all kinds of stuff. It really kind of transformed the way I played.
Q: Some of your moves had to come naturally, right?
A: Maybe a few of them. Growing up, playing in the streets and in the neighborhood, you had to go against guards if you wanted to play. So I had a little bit of it, but for me to really fine tune it was a big deal last year.
Q: You've got the Bears off to a 9-1 start with two big road games coming up against Arkansas and South Carolina. What do you think of this team?
A: We've got all the pieces, although I'm not sure everyone realizes it. Right now we're under the radar, and that's understandable with all the guys we lost from last year. You've got to fear the unexpected. When I'm on, we can compete with anyone.