SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – In just his first year as head coach, Ime Udoka has led the Boston Celtics all the way to the NBA Finals.
But if you go back some 25 years, you’ll find that Udoka’s collegiate playing career began at the College of Eastern Utah (now known as USU Eastern) in Price.
“He came for a visit, and I don’t think he said two words the entire time he was there,” recalled former CEU head coach Guy Beach. “We had dinner and everything, but all he wanted to do was play.”
Guy Beach coached Udoka for two years at Eastern Utah from 1995-97, and he could tell he was going to be something special.
“As a player, he stuffed the stat sheet,” Beach said. “He didn’t care if he scored every time. He didn’t care if he assisted every time, he played defense, he rebounded. He did a little bit of everything.”
The Golden Eagles went 28-5 in Udoka’s sophomore season, and he recorded the first triple-double in school history.
“Ime is a good kid,” said former CEU assistant coach John Blain. “He didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody. He was a team player, and you can see that’s the reason he’s been successful.”
Udoka played on that Eastern Utah team with Harold Arceneaux and Eddie Gill, who, along with Guy Beach, went on to Weber State, who upset North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Who knows, if Udoka followed them to Ogden, they could have made the Final Four.
“We could have,” Beach said with a smile. “We definitely could have.”
Udoka went on to play for the University of San Francisco and Portland State. He then played seven years in the NBA with the Lakers, Knicks, Blazers, Spurs and Kings before getting into coaching. After nine years as an assistant, Udoka finally got his big break in Boston this season.
“He ate, slept and drank basketball,” Beach said. “He came from Portland to a little dinky town in Price, Utah, and he flourished there. It’s not surprising that he got into coaching.”
“I had a few call-ups that fell through,” Udoka said before Game 1 of the NBA Finals. “So I was very close for a while. There were ups and downs along the way. If not for that [Boston] situation, I was going to kick the door down at some point.”
“Don’t kid yourself, he knows the game,” added Blain. “He’ll just tell you the way it is in a polite way. He won’t yell or holler. He’s just telling you, hey you’ve got to do this if we’re going to win.”
Beach says it’s Udoka’s calm, steady attitude that the Celtics players relate to.
“He never got too high or too low,” Beach said. “In the semifinals our or region tournament his sophomore year, he hit a three at the buzzer to put us into the finals. Everybody was jumping up and down, and he walked over to the bench, put on his sweats, walked over to shake hands, and then went back to the hotel. That sums him up in a nutshell.”