Not six months ago, when the name Ekpe Udoh was announced at Oracle Arena, a chorus of boos rang out from the crowd.
The same name was announced again in the same arena when the Warriors played Miami on Friday, and this time an ovation erupted. What changed between now and the day in June, when the Warriors drafted Udoh sixth overall to the disappointment of fans gathered to watch the 2010 NBA draft on the video board?
"I guess they heard how hard I was working," Udoh said after Sunday's practice before the team departed for tonight's game at Utah. "I can't do anything about that, so I didn't pay any attention to it. My friends would tell me about (the criticism over the Warriors' drafting of me). But that stuff is out of my control. I just focused on working hard and getting better."
Udoh's NBA debut was much more celebrated than his drafting. With the Warriors off to an 8-15 start, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound big man represents hope for the future. To fans who have watched their team lose 11 of 12, partially because of defensive shortcomings, Udoh's reputation for shot-blocking and rebounding sounds desirable.
During his three-minute, 20-second stint against the Heat, Udoh did something that might make Warriors fans embrace him even more. With about 2:30 left in the game, he got the ball on the low block, sized up the defender behind him, backed in a few dribbles and banked a right hook off the glass for his first basket as a pro.
Sure, it was garbage time in a game already decided. Yes, it was against a little-used big man who offered little resistance. Certainly, it was one move executed one time. But the franchise is so starved for low-post scoring that the mere sight of a well-executed bucket from a post-up energized the crowd.
"We have to develop somebody down there," coach Keith Smart said. "We've got to develop that player to be a low-post player first, and whatever else he has to his game is going to be a plus.
"What you need down on the low block is patience and an understanding of spacing. He has a little bit of that. He doesn't rush. He took his time, he waited for the move, he got the ball back tight into his body to go into his jump hook. That was pretty good for the first time."
Smart said they're going "full-bore" to get Udoh up to speed. But the biggest barrier between Udoh and more minutes is his conditioning.
Udoh graded well on his defensive assignments against Miami, and Smart said he was impressed with the rookie's communication (he even pointed his teammates in the right direction a couple times). Still, he doesn't yet have the legs to play a bulk of minutes. Before Friday, the Baylor University product hadn't played since the 2010 NCAA regional final against Duke.
"I was kind of tired just walking to the scorer's table," Udoh said. "I guess my adrenaline was running high."
Smart suggested Udoh could see more playing time tonight because of Utah's up-tempo style. But even if he doesn't play, Udoh would do well to watch Jazz forward Paul Millsap, Smart said. For now, Smart said he wants Udoh to focus on defense, rebounding and running the floor hard -- which is how Millsap made a name for himself in the league.
If Udoh turns out to be as productive as Millsap, he'll likely have many more ovations coming his way.
Notes: Point guard Stephen Curry (sprained right ankle) traveled with the team to Salt Lake City but will not play. Small forward Rodney Carney (sprained left foot) also traveled, but his status for tonight is uncertain.