It wasn’t as if Morris Udeze lacked for choices when he dipped his toes into the transfer portal pool this offseason.
After all, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Houston native played in 91 games and started 54 times over four basketball seasons at Wichita State, which happened to win 76 games in that span and qualified twice for the NCAA Tournament.
So why, for one final run as a college player, would he pick a University of New Mexico team that is coming off a finish as the No. 9 seed in an 11-team league and had a losing record last season?
“For my last year, I just want to get to the tournament, which I know we can do that,” Udeze said Tuesday, talking with Albuquerque media for the first time since he and most of his new Lobo teammates arrived on the UNM campus a week ago for summer classes and workouts.
“I know what it takes. And I know we have a great group of special talent here.”
As for why the Lobos, several other programs in the Mountain West and other Power 6 level programs wanted Udeze and fellow Lobo transfer Josiah Allick – another 6-8, 240-pound big man who transferred from University of Missouri-Kansas City but was held out of contact drills on Tuesday – the answer is pretty obvious when either player walks into a room.
Aside from both having played more Division I games than just about anyone on the team, both are bigger than all but one Lobo on the roster (7-foot center Sebastian Forsling weighs 240 pounds, and no other player listed is more than 200 pounds) and stronger than everyone on the team.
“Morris is the only one on the team who’s played in an NCAA Tournament,” second-year Lobos head coach Richard Pitino said. “So, when you watch him, he’s just got the maturity level to him where he’s been doing it for a while. Josiah, you can tell talking to him that he’s been doing it for a while. …
“When you look at Josiah and you look at Morris, their bodies are just so much more developed. And we needed that. When you’re playing San Diego State, who has 15 of those guys, or Colorado State or Boise (State) – I mean it was a big conference, and we needed to get bigger.”
MISSING LOBOS: Of the 15 Lobos on the roster – 13 on scholarship and two walk-ons – 10 were on hand at a brief workout the team held in the Pit on Tuesday.
Forsling is back home in Sweden training with his country’s junior national team. Returning All-Mountain West guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., the leading scorers and shot takers on last year’s 13-19 squad, are home working out on their own with their coach’s blessing – which may have some unintended benefits.
“It’s good for guys like Donovan (Dent, a new freshman point guard) and KJ (Jenkins, a returning reserve guard) and some of these other guys to just get some good reps at different spots,” said Pitino.
“So, I’m excited to get them back (in July for Mashburn and House, August for Forsling). But I also do know it is a long season.”
ON THE MEND: Three players were held out of full contact drills on Wednesday due to injury, but none of those injuries, Pitino said, should be factors when the season opens in November.
In fact, all three – Allick (ankle surgery in March), senior Emmanuel Kuac (recovering from his broken leg suffered in January), and freshman guard Braden Appelhans (thumb injury suffered over the weekend) – worked out at a high speed on the north end of Bob King Court while the rest of the team was going through full contact workouts on the south end rim.
Pitino said there’s no reason to think all three won’t be ready in the fall for full practices and for the season.
OLD MAN: Udeze, who is 22 years old, has been assigned three roommates this summer at Lobo Village: All – Dent, Quinten Webb and Appelhans – are freshmen and experiencing college for the first time.
So, is the old man making sure they get to bed on time, eat right and aren’t home sick?
“Exactly. We talked about that. I was like, ‘Are you guys good? You guys gonna be all right?'” Udeze joked when asked about the younger teammates in their first week at college.
“… Donovan, Braden and Q are a different type of group, man. They’re cool, even guys. They don’t cause no trouble. So I kind of don’t have to deal with that. They’re cool.”