Athletics & Recreation / Magazine

Sophomore Chris Udofia keeps men’s basketball team smiling

"As long as you are poised and have a sense of relaxation about it, it can be good for the team," Chris Udofia says of his sense of humor. Photo: Andrew Fielding

Throughout any basketball season, there are countless moments when the pressure mounts and the intensity flares to red-hot levels.

It is during these moments — perhaps as the final seconds are ticking away in a tightly contested game, or as the head coach gathers his troops to design a climactic play — when Chris Udofia’s smile shines brightest.

Now a sophomore on the University of Denver men’s basketball team, the integrated sciences major already has made his mark in the Pioneers’ locker room with his quick wit and engaging smile. While Udofia and his timely quips are emerging as the team’s unofficial tension-breaker, it is the power forward’s improved play that will be integral as DU heads into its final season in the Sun Belt Conference. DU joins the Western Athletic Conference after the 2011-12 season.

“I was a little nervous about that at first, because I’m always joking around,” Udofia says with what soon may be a signature grin on campus. “It’s fun sometimes to lighten things up, because sometimes guys can be too serious. I think it helps me in the long run to relax. There is no need to be uptight when you are in overtime or anything like that. As long as you are poised and have a sense of relaxation about it, it can be good for the team.”

The 6-foot-6 forward already has used his witty personality to fit in with his new teammates, yet it is Udofia’s surging play, not his quirky jokes, that should keep Pioneers fans smiling.

Expected to make an immediate contribution in the frontcourt, Udofia struggled out of the gate as a freshman as he adjusted to the college game. However, Udofia eventually found his niche, appearing in all 30 games during his rookie campaign (four starts) and averaging 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds while recording a team-leading 39 blocked shots.

“The thing that is nice about Chris is that when a lot of kids come up today and get recruited, for some reason they feel entitled. They are told they are good their whole life,” says head coach Joe Scott. “It is kind of refreshing to have a kid that knows he’s good but doesn’t think he’s good. There is a difference. He knows he’s good because of how he goes about his business every day.”

Udofia admits the learning curve during the first few months of his college career was steeper than he originally expected. Always one of the bigger players on the floor when he suited up for Jesuit Prep High School in his hometown of Irving, Texas, Udofia struggled to assert himself against the even bigger competition he faced during his first few games with the Pioneers. Those struggles seemingly are in Udofia’s rearview mirror, and he expects to improve on his recent surge as the Pioneers look to leave the Sun Belt on a winning note.

“It was pretty rough at first, and I still have plenty to learn,” Udofia says. “But I feel like I’m a lot more comfortable now. I’m more flexible with the movements and what I’m doing. The biggest difference is just the size of the athletes. In high school I was always the biggest guy. Now I’m probably one of the smaller guys out there. You just have to use your talents and abilities, like my long arms and reach, to get an advantage out there.”


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