New Jersey Nets’ Ben Uzoh knows San Antonio and the San Antonio Spurs well.
He should. The 2006 Warren High School grad has history and roots here.
Uzoh was the San Antonio Express-News Area Player of the Year, a first-team Class 5A all-state, all-district and all-region selection as a senior and was was named the MVP of District 27-5A his senior season along with taking Warren to the State Championship.
Before he was starring at Warren though, Uzoh spent his childhood watching and idolizing the Spurs and trying to emulate their moves in his driveway.
When I talked to Uzoh prior to last week’s Nets game, he had just spent All-Star weekend back in the 210 area code.
“It feels good, it feel’s like a homecoming,” the rookie guard said. “I haven’t been back and haven’t played in this city in about five years.”
If I was coming back to my hometown after being away even a year, I’d have a laundry list of some of my favorite places I had to see before I left.
Even when I lived 45 minutes away from my hometown, I used to plan to go to all of my favorite places when I visited on the weekends. But for Uzoh, he can soak up all of his hometown and memories of his childhood in one place, the Northside home of Francis and Caroline Uzoh, his parents.
“My house for the most part,” Uzoh said. “As long as I’m home that’s real big for me. I’m a big family guy.”
Uzoh has come a long way from buying tickets to Spurs games at the Alamodome and the AT&T Center.
Instead of being up in the nosebleeds, he’s in the visiting locker room and sees the players out on the court.
“I looked up to a lot of the guys here,” Uzoh said. “I was here for a long time and especially when they were winning championships, so I looked up to a lot of guys, including my current head coach Avery (Johnson), so that was pretty cool.”
The 6-3 guard plays the same position as the former Spur, so Johnson was one of the players he emulated.
When Uzoh didn’t hear his name called on draft night, which usually spells a tough road ahead, he was unaware of what would come shortly after.
Uzoh was invited to training camp with the New Jersey Nets and watched nervously as players were cut. He was one of 16 on the training camp roster and at least one player still needed to be cut.
Luckily for him, Brian Zoubek was cut and Johnson went on to sign Uzoh to a partially guaranteed contract and then signed him for the remainder of the season on January 5.
The chance to play for his childhood hero has been a great experience for Uzoh, something he chalks up to fate.
“I thought it was pretty unique, kind of like divine intervention,” the Tulsa alumnus said. “I grew up watching him and knew a lot about him. I’m looking forward to continue playing for him, so it’s pretty cool.”
Asked if Johnson knew he was now coaching one of his fans, Uzoh said he talked to Johnson about it on a few occasions.
“I’ve mentioned that to him a couple times so he thinks that’s pretty cool. I think we definitely have a connection here.”
This season, Uzoh is averaging 3.6 points and 1.5 assists in 9.5 minutes per game for the Nets. backing up Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar.
Recently, on the road against Houston, he finished the game with 18 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.
One has to wonder if he may still be bitter about the Rockets stopping the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals years ago.
Once a Spurs fan. Always a Spurs fan.