The Fargo-Morehead Beez, Independiente, The North Charleston Lowgators, Adriondack Wildcats, Charleston Lowgators. That's stops in the IBL, Argentina, D-League, USBL and back to the D-League if you were wondering. Those are the places Spurs Assistant Coach Ime Udoka made before even getting a shot in the NBA. And that was only the first four years of his journey. After he played just four games with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003, Udoka went back to Charleston before heading overseas for stops in France and Spain. He then went back to the D-League during the 2005-2006 season before playing the final month with the New York Knicks.
Finally, some stability came in the 2006-2007 season when Udoka played a full season with the Portland Trailblazers. The next two seasons came life as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. He was seen as their heir apparent to Bruce Bowen, but was more Bruce Bowen-lite. After that Spurs run, Udoka landed in Sacramento, spending a season with the Kings. His final NBA stay was 20 games with the Spurs in the 2010-2011 season.
Udoka played one final season in Spain before moving back stateside to become an assistant with the Spurs. 12 years, six leagues, four countries on three continents. While it sounds like a long, unique journey, it's not. It's the type of career many of the players Udoka is coaching. Of the Spurs Summer League roster, only three are under contract. Another, Dexter Pittman, has playoff experience (and a championship ring) and Chris Wright is the only other player with NBA game experience on the roster.
Udoka's long, winding playing career may not have been ideal while it was happening, but it's helped his young coaching career, especially when it comes to relating to his young Summer League squad. As a veteran of four Summer League runs, Udoka says he's talked to his players about what would might catch a team's attention.
"We’re talking about effort and things like that. There’s a lot of eyes on you watching," Udoka said. "Not only the Spurs, but teams from Europe here as well as the rest of the NBA, so it’s time to take advantage when you get minutes out there. Regardless of how much you’re playing, take advantage, because you never know who’s watching. And I can share those experiences that I went through as a player."
The head coach isn't the only one who can offer advice to some of the younger players on the roster. After spending four years at Washington State, Aron Baynes headed overseas for four years, playing with four different teams during that time, before signing with the Spurs. Nando De Colo played professionally overseas for six years before coming stateside.
It seems only natural that a young, relatively inexperienced roster would have a young, inexperienced coach. With just one year of assistant coaching under his belt, this Summer League is a new experience for the 35 year old. He said he isn't just using his playing experience to relate to his players, but also with how to deal with any nerves that come with being a first time head coach.
"Once the horn goes off it’s all basketball and you kinda go in to everything you know. We have a good group of guys that have worked hard in these last few days and they’re executing very well what we’ve given them so I’m happy with them," Udoka said. "We’ll continue to work hard and get better but for me once the clock started, it was pretty much just basketball."