Ekpe Udoh

And-Ones: Fournier, France, Udoh, Gasol

Knicks guard Evan Fournier has expressed confidence in the future of France’s national team, discussing his vision for the program in an interview with L’Equipe (hat tip to Sportando).

Fournier, 28, was part of the French team that nearly defeated Team USA in the Gold Medal Olympic game last month. While his team narrowly missed out on a gold medal, it did beat Team USA in an exhibition contest two weeks earlier. Fournier led all scorers with 28 points during that outing.

“We have to promote our sport culture, stop being afraid of being ambitious,” Fournier explained. “I want this to change and our team can do it. We are not afraid of anyone. My vision is to become as dominant as Spain has been in the last fifteen years. Tokyo is just our first final … I want to win Eurobasket 2022.  This is not the time to stop. We have the opportunity to build a dynasty.

“This team must grow every summer, relive the same emotions, reactivate what has made possible our success in Tokyo: putting aside the ego, fighting for each other, having this winning mentality. And starting over every year. It is an opportunity for our sport, but also something that can go beyond basketball, help sport in France. We can set an example for an entire generation.”

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA center Ekpe Udoh has suffered a complete tear of his left knee patellar tendon, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets. The 34-year-old will undergo surgery for the injury and no timetable has been issued. As we previously relayed, it’s believed that Udoh slipped due to an on-court sticker during the Italian SuperCup quarterfinals on Saturday.
  • Veteran NBA big man Pau Gasol briefly discussed the ongoing free agency of his brother, Marc Gasol, acknowledging that Marc has plenty of enthusiasm for Spanish club Basquet Girona. Marc and the club have been linked since he was waived by the Grizzlies last week. “Marc has earned the freedom and flexibility to make his own decision and he will do so when he decides,” Pau said, according to Spanish newspaper Marca (hat tip Sports Illustrated). “I know he has a lot of enthusiasm for Basquet Girona, a club in which I am also involved as vice president. He is in a different situation, because he is five years younger than me. We will see what he decides to do this season and later, I am also waiting.“

Jordan Bell May Sign With Italian Team

Virtus Bologna, the defending champion in the Italian league, is considering signing NBA center Jordan Bell, according to Ennio Terrasi Borghesan of Sportando. The news was first reported by the Italian newspaper Corriere di Bologna.

Bell, 26, finished last season with the Warriors after signing a two-way contract in mid-May. He appeared in just one game for Golden State and wasn’t used in either play-in game.

He also played for the Wizards last season, signing a pair of 10-day contracts in January and April. He got into five total games with Washington, averaging 2.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per night.

Bell was the 38th pick in the 2017 draft and was acquired by the Warriors in a draft night trade. He played rotation minutes for the team during its championship season in 2017/18 and again in its trip to the finals the following year.

He signed with the Timberwolves as a free agent in 2019, but only played 27 games before being traded. He also had brief stops with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Cavaliers and Lakers.

Virtus Bologna has an opening after a potentially serious knee injury to another former NBA player, Ekpe Udoh, per a report from Eurohoops. Udoh was hurt when he slipped on an on-court sticker during the Italian SuperCup quarterfinals.

“The biggest concern is Udoh’s injury. It seems to be bad, he’s the center around whom our game revolves,” coach Sergio Scariolo said. “This story of the court stickers that players slip on is something to think about. It’s a very serious injury for the player and a serious one for the team. I hope it serves to make it clear that we need to have the utmost attention on these things. There are no stickers in the NBA.”

Eight Current NBA Players On Nigeria’s 12-Man Olympic Roster

After making some noise in the exhibition schedule by upsetting Team USA, Nigeria will be looking to become the first African men’s basketball team to win an Olympic medal. And they’ll be doing so with a roster that features eight current NBA players, along with one former NBA player.

Here’s the 12-man squad that will represent Nigeria at the Tokyo games, per the Nigeria Basketball Federation (Twitter link):

Achiuwa, Nwora, Okafor, Okogie, and Okpala are all on guaranteed contracts for next season with their respective teams. Metu and Oni are on non-guaranteed deals, while Vincent will be eligible for restricted free agency after finishing the season on a two-way pact. Udoh, a former sixth overall pick who just finalized a two-year deal with Italian club Virtus Bologna, has appeared in a total of 400 NBA games (regular season and postseason)

While the Nigerian squad isn’t exactly loaded with star power, it’s worth highlighting since it’s rare for any country besides Team USA to send so many current NBA players to the Olympics.

Australia’s team will have seven players who finished the season on NBA rosters, while Spain’s roster features 10 players with at least some NBA experience. But the U.S. team is the only other one in Tokyo that will feature at least eight current NBAers.

And-Ones: McCullough, Hayes, Auguste, Udoh, Lofton

Former Nets forward Chris McCullough, the 29th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, is eyeing a return to the NBA this year, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News writes. McCullough is currently training for The Basketball Tournament with Boeheim’s Army.

“I’m still athletic and stuff like that. But I do way more than dunk now,” said McCullough, who played 40 games with Brooklyn from 2015-17 and 21 games with Washington from 2017-18. “I can block shots. I can handle the ball. I have range. I can create my own shot now. So it will be very different.”

McCullough’s TBT team is set to start playing on Saturday. The 26-year-old has received interest for the Las Vegas Summer League next month, sources said. He also told the Daily News that he has upcoming workouts scheduled with multiple NBA teams.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • EuroLeague players Nigel Hayes and Zach Auguste will work out for the Celtics this week, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando (Twitter link). Hayes, a 6’8″ power forward, holds nine games of NBA experience and last played in Lithuania. As for Auguste, a 6’10” big man, he’s spent most of his career overseas and most recently played in Greece.
  • Free agent center Ekpe Udoh has signed a two-year contract with Virtus Bologna in Italy, the team announced. Udoh, the No. 6 pick in 2010, has appeared in 384 NBA games with four teams. He most recently played in China.
  • Former Pistons two-way player Zach Lofton has signed in Kuwait with Kazma Sport Club, Nicola Lupo of Sportando tweets. Lofton is a 28-year-old guard who went undrafted in 2018.

And-Ones: Bates, Trades, COVID-19, Udoh

Emoni Bates is the number one player in the country, according to ESPN’s basketball rankings for the class of 2022. While most kids would join a blue blood program (he’s committed to Michigan State) in their one season before the NBA, times have changed. According to Brendan Quinn of The Athletic, many sources think that Bates will forgo his college eligibility to play in the G League, just as top 2020 recruit Jalen Green did. 

“Of all the sources interviewed for this story, those existing in and out of the Bates’ camp, no one seems to believe Emoni will play at Michigan State,” Quinn wrote. “Instead, Bates most likely will wait for a professional contract, probably the most lucrative the G League can muster, and turn professional before heading to the NBA.” 

However, according to Emoni’s father, Elgin Bates, no decision has been made just yet, as Adam Zagoria of Forbes writes.

“If the G League is something he wants to do, if he decides that’s what he wants to do, that’s perfectly fine,” the elder Bates said, via Zagoria. “He can do the G League. If Michigan State is what he wants to do, that’s perfectly fine. If he wants to entertain going overseas, that’s perfectly fine. If he just wants to sit out and train for a year, it’s whatever he wants to do. It’s his decision.”

Here are a few more tip-ins from around the basketball world: 

  • A handful of ESPN experts (Insider link) shared the trades they’d like to see happen ahead of the NBA’s March 25th trading deadline. The potential swaps ESPN’s insiders proposed included a three-team trade that would send Kyle Lowry home to Philadelphia, Aaron Gordon going to the Timberwolves, and the Clippers acquiring George Hill.
  • According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology, fewer than 1% of pro athletes infected by COVID-19 also developed inflammatory heart disease. “Only time will tell if, five years from now, we’ll have an epidemic of failed hearts,” said Dr. Robert Bonow, a cardiologist at Northwestern University and editor of JAMA Cardiology who was not affiliated with the study, per ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. “But I think that is unlikely.”
  • Ekpe Udoh, who spent seven seasons in the NBA for the Warriors, Bucks, Clippers and Jazz, has landed a deal to play in China for the Beijing Royal Fighers, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando.

International Notes: Australia, China, Turkey, EuroLeague

After canceling the remainder of their best-of-five Grand Final series earlier this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, Australia’s National Basketball League announced today that the Perth Wildcats have been crowned champions for 2019/20. Perth was leading the Sydney Kings 2-1 in the series when it was canceled.

In a statement, NBL owner and executive chairman Larry Kestelman and commissioner Jeremy Loeliger explained the decision and announced that former standout Providence guard Bryce Cotton has been named the Grand Final MVP.

The NBL’s press releases this week have made it clear that the league’s decision to cancel the rest of the Grand Final series was made in large part because the Kings expressed they weren’t comfortable with continuing to play those games. Bogut, who said Sydney’s decision was made after “almost three hours of back and forth (and plenty of tears),” registered his displeasure with the way the NBL handled things.

“I want to go on record to say I am beyond embarrassed and disappointed in regards to how this was handled by our league from the week leading up to the Grand Final series. More to come at a later date re: that,” Bogut wrote in a Twitter note.This has nothing to do with the result announced today and I wish to congratulate the Perth Wildcats on being crowned Champions.”

Here’s more international news from basketball leagues around the world:

  • Jeremy Lin, Ekpe Udoh, and Antonio Blakeney are among the players who have now returned to China and will begin a two-week quarantine before returning to their respective CBA teams, per Emiliano Carchia of Sportando (Twitter links).
  • The Turkish government has made the decision to suspend all sports in the country, including basketball, Carchia writes in a story at Sportando. Players in Turkey expressed dismay last week that games were continuing amid the coronavirus outbreak, as we noted at the time.
  • The EuroLeague issued an update on the postponement of its season, addressing whether or not players are allowed to leave their respective cities, what will happen with this year’s EuroLeague Final Four, and much more. Carchia has the full memo at Sportando.

World Cup Updates: Lithuania, Joseph, Nigeria, France

The Lithuanian national team has announced its roster for the 2019 World Cup, according to Donatas Urbonas, who tweets that the 12-man squad will include Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas and Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt. Former Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas is also on the roster.

Lithuania is viewed as a contender to make a deep run in this year’s tournament, but it won’t have an easy path to even make it out of the first round. The Lithuanian national team is part of a group that also includes Australia, Canada, and Senegal — only two of those clubs will advance to the round of 16.

Here’s more on the 2019 World Cup, which will tip off in just four days in China:

Ekpe Udoh To Play In China

Free agent Ekpe Udoh has agreed to a one-year deal with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association, per a report from Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.

Per Varlas, the 32-year-old big man who last played for the Jazz during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons after being drafted No. 6 overall by the Warriors back in 2010, will become the highest-paid non-Chinese player in the CBA.

Confirming Eurohoops’ report, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News adds that Udoh was strongly considering a return to the EuroLeague (where he played from 2015 to 2017), with reportedly up to five multi-million dollar offers from strong franchises in Spain, Italy and Turkey on the table.

A seven-year NBA veteran, Udoh holds career averages of 3.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.7 assists in 14.8 minutes per game. In addition to the potential financial incentive of heading overseas, Udoh also figures to play a more prominent role in China than he did in the NBA. After all, he was successful enough to earn Final Four MVP during his previous stint overseas.

Free Agent Rumors: Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Kyrie, KD, More

While the Clippers are generally grouped together with the rest of the Los Angeles and New York teams leading up to free agency as the big-market franchises looking to make a major splash on the free agent market, the Clips’ plans may look a little different than what those other clubs have in mind, writes Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

As Buha explains, the Clippers are unlikely to pursue top point guards like Kyrie Irving or Kemba Walker due to their “steadfast belief” in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been considered untouchable in trade talks.

Additionally, the Clippers likely won’t attempt to sign a second- or third-tier free agent like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris unless it’s on a short-term deal, according to Buha, who points out that the team traded away Harris because it didn’t want to cap the roster’s ceiling at “good” instead of “great.”

Instead, the Clippers will focus on the top two free agents in this year’s free agent class – Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard – as well as top trade candidate Anthony Davis. If L.A. is unable to land one of those superstars, the organization figures to remain patient, avoiding a reactionary signing or trade and instead shifting its attention to re-signing its own free agents and making smaller moves, says Buha.

As we wait to see how that plan plays out, let’s round up a few more rumors and notes related to free agency:

  • Within his full report on Kyrie Irving‘s agent change, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shares some intriguing tidbits on two of this summer’s top free agents. Sources tell Wojnarowski that Irving remains “intensely interested” in the Nets, with the Knicks expected to remain competitive for the star point guard. Both New York teams are still interested in signing Irving and Kevin Durant together, even after KD’s Achilles tear, according to Woj.
  • There’s a feeling in both NBA circles and in the Nets‘ front office that Brooklyn will land at least one star free agent this offseason, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post.
  • Marc Berman of The New York Post explores some potential Plan Bs for the Knicks in the event that they miss out on Durant or back off their pursuit of the two-time Finals MVP at all following his Achilles injury.
  • The Jazz appear likely to lose veterans Ekpe Udoh and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency, according to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune, who examines the impact the duo had on Utah’s locker room over the last couple seasons.

Ekpe Udoh Considering Return To EuroLeague

Jazz center Ekpe Udoh will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and there’s no guarantee he’ll remain in the NBA. According to Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News, Udoh is drawing significant interest from a handful of EuroLeague teams.

A source tells Woodyard that Udoh has “up to four or five multi-million-dollar offers” on the table from teams in Spain, Italy, and Turkey. Woodyard adds that if Udoh is interested in playing overseas, he could look to reach an agreement within the next week.

Udoh, who began his career with the Warriors in 2010 after being selected sixth overall in that year’s draft, remained in the NBA through the 2014/15 season, then joined Turkish team Fenerbahce for two years. He won a EuroLeague title with the club in 2017 and was named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP before heading back to the NBA with the Jazz.

Now that his contract with Utah is set to expire, the veteran big man could be intrigued by a return to Europe, where he’d have a more sizable role than the one he has had in the NBA. In 114 total games for the Jazz over the last two seasons, Udoh averaged 2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in limited minutes (9.9 MPG). He’s open to staying in the NBA, depending on his role, sources tell Tony Jones of The Athletic (Twitter link).

If Udoh remains in the NBA, he and his representatives will be able to talk to and meet with potential suitors beginning at the end of June. There’s nothing stopped European teams from reaching out to his camp before then, since they’re not subject to the NBA’s anti-tampering rules.