Ekpe Udoh's last stint in the NBA ended in Los Angeles with the Clippers in 2015. During that season, he had a teammate that he liked, but didn't make the cut with the team: Joe Ingles.
Three years later, Ingles has just been extended for a four-year, $52 million contract coming off his best NBA season. And Udoh, a one-time lottery pick who busted, would like to see some of the same improvement as his former teammate when he joins the Utah Jazz this fall.
"That's been impressive," Udoh said Friday during a conference call, addressing local media for the first time as his two-year deal became official. "I look forward to working with these coaches and getting better."
The 6-foot-10 center/power forward with a hawk-like wingspan wouldn't be getting another shot at the NBA if he hadn't spent the past two seasons improving in Turkey.
In Udoh, the Jazz saw a chance to acquire a 30-year-old who not only can block shots (2.2 per game in Euroleague play last season) but guard almost every position and be an offensive playmaker. The Final Four MVP for Fenerbahce this spring as the club won the Euroleague title, Udoh wants to make clear that he is not the same player he was in 2010, when the Golden State Warriors picked him No. 6 overall out of Baylor.
"I think that I didn't make the most of my opportunities then," he said. "I didn't take care of my business at the end of the day. Going forward, I need to be ready."
Udoh only averaged 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in five seasons in the NBA, underperforming Paul George and Gordon Hayward who were picked after him.
It's been a different story in Turkey, where he thrived under well-regarded Fenerbahce coach Zeljko Obradovic, who has won nine Euroleague championships in his career. Nothing went overlooked.
"It's all about the small details," Udoh said. "If you didn't make the right cut, he would stop practice every time. You learn to make the right cut or the right angle on the screen."
With Obradovic's watchful eye, Udoh became a dominant Euroleague player, averaging 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while protecting the rim with a vengeance.
His best strides have come on offense, he said, where he's able to better visualize plays before they unfold and make smarter passes.
As the star player of two deep playoff runs the last two years, Udoh feels that he's also improved on his ability to play in big games. After a comeback in the championship fell short in 2016, Udoh said he stewed over the game for a whole year until Fenerbahce was able to finally win the title.
"That evolved me as a player and a person," he said. "Knowing when it's crunch time, you gotta shine, you gotta come up."
He hopes to make more strides under Jazz coach Quin Snyder, with whom he talked extensively during free agency.
He said he looks forward to playing in an organization with a Baylor alum as a general manager (Dennis Lindsey) and reuniting with his former teammate Ingles. He also likes Utah's approach to defense structured around starting center Rudy Gobert ("he covers everything," Udoh remarked).
Already on social media, Fenerbahce fans have let him hear it — they don't want him to leave. If all goes well, Udoh wants to inspire similar loyalty from Jazz fans.
"I'm excited for this new journey," he said.