Morris Udeze didn’t come to the University of New Mexico to babysit.
The 6-foot-8, 240-pound fifth-year graduate transfer from Wichita State who turns 23 next week saw an opportunity at a program on the rise with veteran players to make one last postseason run in his final season of college basketball.
“For my last year, I just want to get to the tournament, which I know we can do that,” Udeze said back in June. He was a newcomer and upon his arrival became the only player on the Lobos roster who has ever played in the NCAA Tournament.
“I know what it takes.”
While he’s certainly established his dominance on the court, there are times it’s not as easy at home, where he was thrown quite the curve ball on the first day he arrived at UNM. Then, he moved in with three teammates – freshmen Donovan Dent, Braden Appelhans and Quinton Webb – at the Lobo Village apartments next to the Pit.
“That remote is on my lap when we’re watching TV,” said Udeze.
“That’s just how it is when we’re there. That’s the rule.”
Udeze never realized his all-business swan song of a season at UNM would include rooming with three teammates five years younger than he, all of whom are cutting their teeth on being college basketball players, college students and just living away from home for the first time.
But he insists it’s been a blast.
“They could have been some hard-headed freshmen, or stuff like that, but they’ve been smooth, very easy to deal with,” said Udeze. “They don’t cause any problems.”
The freshmen all grin when the subject of their roommate is brought up.
“He’s definitely the big dog in the house,” Dent said. “He makes sure everyone’s all right. He just checks in on us. We call him ‘Uncle Mo’.”
Udeze, who laughs at the nickname, said he wants to be there for his teammates in any way they need him to be, sharing the experiences he’s been through in college as they are just starting their journeys.
“In terms of anything from women, girls, all that, schoolwork – which I won’t do for them,” Udeze said. “But it’s mostly basketball stuff. They just want to know what their next steps will be, you know? Even if they’re too eager about the future, I just kind of slow them down. One day at a time. You’ve got to keep stacking chips, man. Control the controllables. That’s what I try to get them to understand.”
Udeze’s success on the court has been hard to ignore. He leads the team and is second in the Mountain West Conference in both scoring (18.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (63.3%). But his roommates say he’s never above just being one of the guys, either – just one with a whole lot to teach them.
“He does tell us what to expect on our college route and all that, but mostly, he really just acts like one of us all the time,” said Appelhans.
Added Webb, an athletic wing from California who just turned 18 last month and is expected to redshirt this season to save a year of eligibility, “We’re always talking, whether it’s about on the court stuff or off the court stuff. He’s just trying to make sure we’re making the right moves, and it’s gonna benefit us at the end of the day.”
Second-year head coach Richard Pitino said the offseason pursuits of Udeze and forward Josiah Allick (a Kansas City transfer) was very much about adding experience to the roster to partner with other experienced players like Jamal Mashburn Jr., Jaelen House and K.J. Jenkins.
And while he had no doubt Udeze was a high-character guy, he can’t take credit for either having seen how good a mentor Udeze would be or even for the random housing arrangement that landed him in the same apartment as the three freshmen.
“Yeah, they just were all new so we put them together,” Pitino said. “… But I do see how willing he is to mentor the younger guys. Maybe that’s because he’s living with them, I don’t know. But he’s got a really mature approach on a daily basis.
“Mash is kind of the same way. He and Morris, they’re just business like every day. Now, they can laugh and have fun, too, but that’s the best thing younger players can see is he’s coming to practice to get better, and that’s translating to the game.”