Ekpe Udoh believes it so much, he said it more than once.
“I’m still one of the best defenders in the world, hands down,” he said Friday morning ahead of his game against the Phoenix Suns.
One of the best in the world?
“I’m one of ’em,” he said. “I really believe that in my heart.”
The 30-year-old said he is brimming with confidence since completing his two-year stint in Turkey, where he felt he became even more well-rounded than the shot-blocking phenom he was coming out of Baylor. At 6-foot-10, Udoh feels he can give some versatility and mobility, playing either center or power forward while guarding as far out as the 3-point line.
And that confidence, coach Quin Snyder said, is OK.
“The fact that he takes that much pride in his defense is a great thing,” he said. “What he’s done the last few years, last year at Fenerbahce, really switching on pick and rolls, the intelligence, the savvy — he’s always been a good defender.”
But what might be the key to Udoh getting rotation minutes this year is his offense, and he showed potential there particularly in the first half against Phoenix on Friday night. He played as a center in a lineup with Derrick Favors and as a forward in a lineup with Rudy Gobert. With three assists in the first half alone (including a dart of a swing pass between Rodney Hood and Favors), Udoh showcased how much his passing improved abroad.
He’s also gotten praise from Snyder as being the fastest big man during training camp, which is also something Udoh is proud of.
“It’s just challenging myself, trying to get in the best shape I can,” he said. “I work hard. Lift. Do extra cardio work and core work as well. You just gotta be ready for the opportunity.”
Jazz arena staff still ‘special’ to Earl Watson
Four seasons removed from the end of his three-year run as a player with the Utah Jazz, Suns coach Earl Watson has seen a lot change in personnel. His last coach in Salt Lake City, Ty Corbin, is now one of his assistants, for example, and there’s been a lot of other turnover as well.
Who does he still keep in touch with when he’s in town? Ushers, security people and other Vivint Smart Home Arena staff who have still stuck around.
“They’re the initial introduction and initial experience when you come to a game. It’s not the players. It’s not the coaches,” he said. “Men and women who bust their butts who make sure it’s a great experience for the fans and the players and our families. We appreciate him and I can’t say that enough. … The people who matter the most are the people who don’t wear jerseys.”
In his missive on arena staffers, Watson also name-checked Wally Price, a longtime usher who died in 2015, calling him “special.”
‘JP Strong’ night at Vivint
The Jazz brought out specially designed “JP Strong” T-shirts on Friday night to the arena team store, helping raise money for 8-year-old fan JP Gibson as he battles leukemia for a second time. The proceeds of the shirt sales go directly to the Gibson family for medical costs.
Gibson was at the game after going to the hospital earlier in the week, giving an assist to the Utah Jazz dunk team during halftime.