For Ekpe Udoh, being an NBA player is a great thing.
But using his platform for the chance to help others and the opportunity to prepare for life after basketball, that’s where he feels he can make a lasting impact.
On the floor, Udoh distinguished himself as a shot-blocking demon. In his one season with the Utah Jazz, he famously called himself one of the best defenders in the world, and then lived up to it. He stood out as a gregarious presence in Utah’s locker room. And he immersed himself in the Salt Lake community with his book club, even taking the time to meet with local readers and fans at the end of every entry.
“I was grateful and excited for this year,” Udoh told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview. “We had a great season, and we have a chance to have a better season next year.”
On Friday, Udoh and his business partners officially kicked off Let’s Get Right, a hydroponic farming company aimed at producing fresh vegetables in his native Oklahoma.
Udoh started working on the venture in 2015, while playing overseas. With the moniker “No Luck. Be Great.” Udoh and his partners have launched the business with the idea of helping inner-city schools, children who are malnourished and people who simply aren’t as fortunate.
Spinach, kale, various greens and pretty much any leafy vegetable are what LGRFarms will offer. Udoh expects the first harvest at the end of June, and plans on every harvest going to the disadvantaged. The message behind it is clear. Udoh wants to promote as much healthy eating as possible to as many people as possible.
“I want it to be in public schools and in the inner-cities and underserved communities,” Udoh said. “We want to offer our produce to restaurant groups. We want to make it accessible and affordable. I know how expensive it can be to shop for food. So, we want to make it cost effective.”
Udoh’s 31 years old — he just celebrated a birthday — and says he wants his career to stretch another five years. He’s in position to do that with his ability to defend, combined with a locker room presence that can help many teams as his career advances even further.
But he’s also aware of his basketball mortality. Udoh knows he won’t play forever, and has started to think about life after basketball. Setting foot into the business world has long been a natural step for him.
Wading into LGRFarms has been natural as well. Udoh’s parents ate what they grew in their native Nigeria growing up. And when Udoh was a child, his parents extolled upon him the virtue of healthy eating.
“Basketball isn’t going to last forever,” Udoh said. “So, being able to get a head start on life after basketball is huge. My post athletic career is in its baby stages. So, it’s important to look into every option. I know the game can be taken away from me at any time.”
Udoh’s desire to help people less fortunate than himself has also helped as well. He considers himself one of the lucky ones — someone who had a happy and healthy childhood, and someone who was educated well and who used basketball to educate himself more.
So, when Udoh came to the Jazz this past season, he made it a goal to launch LGRFarms and to get it up and running. He accomplished that this month.
That done, Udoh returned to Salt Lake City on Sunday, and plans to return to Utah’s practice facility, starting Monday on his offseason regimen. Like many of his teammates, Udoh is bullish on Utah’s chances for next season. He said he intends on remaining with the Jazz, although his contract is non-guaranteed for next season.
If he does return, his role likely depends on what happens with Derrick Favors. If Favors comes back in unrestricted free agency, Udoh will likely be Utah’s third center. If Favors leaves, Udoh may become the primary backup.
Either way, he’s been an asset to the Jazz this season and plans on remaining so. And now, he also has a business to run.
Ekpe Udoh file
Udoh is a native of Oklahoma. He’s one of two Jazz players to play at Baylor University.
Udoh’s press day for LGRFarms was Friday. He said he expects the first harvest at the end of June
Udoh is a former lottery pick of the Golden State Warriors