DAVID FLORES: Warren grad Uzoh finding his groove as rookie in NBA

DAVID FLORES: Warren grad Uzoh finding his groove as rookie in NBA

Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com

New Jersey Nets rookie point guard Ben Uzoh, a 2006 Warren High School graduate and former Tulsa star, works with instructor Walter Kramer on Sunday at St. George Episcopal School.

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by David Flores / Kens5.com

kens5.com

Posted on February 21, 2011 at 2:13 AM

Updated Monday, Feb 21 at 2:49 AM

Most NBA players take advantage of the all-star break to take a mini-vacation.

New Jersey Nets rookie point guard Ben Uzoh flew back home to San Antonio on Thursday, but he hasn’t exactly been kicking up his feet watching TV and playing video games.
 
A 2006 Warren High School graduate who starred at Tulsa, Uzoh has used his time off to work on the finer points of his game and prepare himself mentally for the second half of the season.
 
Wherever that may be. More on that in a bit.
 
Uzoh, who last month was given a guaranteed contract by the Nets for the remainder of the season, has played in 27 games. Uzoh did not get drafted coming out of college last year, but he was invited to training camp by New Jersey and earned a roster spot.  
 
A backup to Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar, he is averaging 3.2 points and 9.2 minutes for New Jersey, which is struggling through a 17-40 season under first-year coach Avery Johnson.
 
Uzoh reflected on his first few months as a pro Sunday during a workout at St. George Episcopal School with local basketball instructor Walter Kramer, who counts former Spurs guard Antonio Daniels among the players he’s worked with.
 
“The NBA is really a different game than college basketball,” Uzoh said. “The pace of the game is different. It’s about spacing on offense and rotations on defense. It’s more of a mental game than college.”
 
Uzoh’s name has been mentioned in a blockbuster trade that would send Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony to the Nets.
 
Anthony, Chancey Billups, Sheldon Williams, Melvin Ely and Renaldo Balkman would go to New Jersey in exchange for Harris, Derrick Favors, Troy Murphy, Uzoh and four first-round picks, according to the Bergen Record.
 
The trade deadline is Thursday.
 
Uzoh’s stance on the trade reports is simple: He’s not going to worry about what he can’t control.
 
Uzoh didn’t talk about the proposed trade Sunday, but Kramer shared some of his thoughts based on conversations he’s had with Uzoh.
 
“Ben prefers to be in New Jersey because he really enjoys being with Avery,” Kramer said. “But he knows it’s a business and he’ll play wherever he gets the opportunity.”
 
Kramer put Uzoh, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, through a series of ballhandling and shooting drills Sunday.
 
“Ben is hungry and humble – a good combination to see in an athlete,” said Kramer, 52. “His skill set has really improved. What’s really neat about Ben is that he’s coming into his manhood as far as strength is concerned.
 
“With his combination of strength, skill set and length – he has the wing span of someone 6-9 – he’s going to be a difficult matchup. Everything’s coming together for him.”
 
Uzoh has worked with Kramer since his sophomore season at Tulsa, where he was a four-year starter.
 
“Walter has helped my game a lot,” Uzoh said. “My ballhandling has improved since I started working with him. He’s taught me how important strength and balance are to being an effective guard.”
 
Uzoh smiled when he recalled the day Johnson told him the Nets were guaranteeing his contract for the rest of the season.
 
“It was Jan. 5,” Uzoh said. “I didn’t know what to think when he called me into his office. I thought I had done something wrong.”
 
Uzoh grew up watching Johnson, the Spurs’ starting point guard when they won their first NBA championship in 1999, ply his trade.  
 
“It’s a blessing to be on a team coached by Avery Johnson,” Uzoh said. “It’s really something that things worked out that way after nobody drafted me. Coach Johnson is my type of guy. I like his beliefs and his character. He’s going to challenge you, but he’s going to be fair.”
 
Born in Houston, Uzoh was a Rockets fan until his family moved to San Antonio when he was 7.
 
“I used to watch the NBA all the time and, even as a little kid, Ben liked it,” said his father, Francis Uzoh, who is from Nigeria.
 
Uzoh played six minutes and finished with five points and three rebounds in a 102-85 loss to the
Spurs on Feb. 14. The Nets resume their season against the Spurs in San Antonio on Friday night.
 
“I respect the Spurs,” Uzoh said. “They don’t beat themselves.”
 
Here’s hoping Uzoh gets some quality playing time Friday night.

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