For Portland Trail Blazers fans, Ime Udoka represents a local hero looking to capitalize on a very tough situation.
Udoka received an invitation to training camp with the Trail Blazers in early October and the former Portland State swingman and Portland native has finally seen his opportunity to impress with the Blazers. But it sure came at a hard time for the 29 year-old.
Just before Udoka's first appearance with the team was due, against Golden State, his father passed away. Fighting through the pain of his loss, Udoka managed to play the following game, against the Jazz. Opportunity had knocked with a sore back ruling Martell Webster out of the game and Udoka put up 16 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 31 minutes off the bench.
Saturday against Seattle, Udoka started and played 35 minutes, again producing 16 points along with 5 assists and 4 steals in the Blazers' first pre-season victory. When asked if the promise the local has shown will lead to a permanent roster position, Nate McMillan said, "he did a nice job... we can't say right now if he'll make the team."
Udoka's path home to Portland has not been a smooth one. After not being drafted, he played 4 games for the Lakers in 2oo3-04 and 8 games last season for the Knicks, giving him career averages of 2.5 ppg and 1.8 rpg. The return home would be a fairytale for the Jefferson High School alum. However a roster spot will be hard to come by.
At 6-6 and 215, Udoka has good size to play shooting guard however the Blazers already have Brandon Roy, Webster and Juan Dixon who all play the two. Add into the mix Travis Outlaw and the eventual return of the mercurial Darius Miles at small forward and it's a tightly contested area of the roster -- as it seems every position is for the Blazers this season.
As Udoka said, "getting into the NBA is hard enough as it is, but when you lose a loved one, it's tougher." We can only imagine.