Former Viking Basketball player, Ime Udoka, is back home living a dream—playing for the Portland Trail Blazers. Through perseverance and, at times, heartbreak, the 6-foot-5 forward has reached a hard-fought goal.
Ime Udoka (pronounced EE-may you-DOE-kuh) was to play his first preseason game for the Blazers on October 17. But that day his father, Vitalis, died suddenly. Despite the shock, Udoka played in a preseason game just a few days later and showed the spark Blazers coach Nate McMillan was looking for. The solid play continued throughout the preseason to the point that his teammates lobbied the coaches and front office to keep Udoka on the team as a member of the regular season roster.
Heck, yes! Not only that, but Coach McMillan kept Udoka in the starting lineup. He has anchored the small forward position for the season, playing good defense and team-oriented, intelligent basketball, making few mistakes, and hitting enough shots to be respected by the opposition.
Udoka’s story is one of the top sports stories of the year in the Rose City, and Portland State University plays a prominent role. He came to PSU in 1998 seeking the opportunity he had always wanted—to advance his basketball game and his education. A Jefferson High School grad and All-Conference player, Udoka attended college in Utah and California before spending his last two years on the Park Blocks—one as a red shirt and one as a player. And play he did. Udoka led the Vikings in scoring, rebounding, steals, and blocked shots. He was named first team All-Big Sky Conference and league Newcomer of the Year. The only downer was a knee injury that forced him to miss the last five games and the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
For the next several years Udoka played for a minor league team in North Dakota, but eventually he had to take almost two years off for rehab—working for a shipping company to make ends meet.
By 2002, he was ready to play again and bounced between the NBA Development League, European teams, and shots at the big time, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks. Over the summer, he competed for the national team of Nigeria, his father’s birth country, in the World Basketball Championships.
One of Udoka’s first acts as a member of the Trail Blazers, was to give back to the school that gave him an early opportunity. He has established the Vitalis S. Udoka Memorial Scholarships.
“His point of coming to America was for college,” says Udoka. “He got a degree in business administration (1978) at Portland State, met my mother here, got married, and raised his family.”
Udoka has cheered on the Vikings throughout the season. At a November winning-game against University of Portland, he smiled and shook hundreds of hands in Stott Center. Stardom has hit, but the soft-spoken Udoka remains down-to-earth and obviously glad to be back home.
Mike Lund is assistant athletic director for media relations.