BY DAN FELDMAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 28, 2007
You can tell a lot about Ekpe Udoh, a career 53-percent free throw shooter, by his practice habits at the charity stripe.
In an early-season practice, the sophomore sulked and seemed despondent as he hoisted free throws. When Michigan coach John Beilein told him to make sure his feet were wider than his shoulders, he seemed almost disinterested in the advice.
But as yesterday's practice closed and Beilein worked with Udoh on his free throws, there was a markedly different look on the center's face. He looked engaged, hanging on Beilein's every word as the coach explained the nuances of a proper release.
The change in attitude is no accident. Udoh was sitting in his dorm room before the Georgetown game and came to a realization.
"I just wasn't liking the way I was playing," Udoh said. "I just got fed up with myself, so I had to change.
"I've changed my attitude since the beginning . by just doing all the little things. The little things progress to the big things."
The Wolverines (3-3) will need Udoh's more focused play to continue when they play Boston College (4-0) tonight in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, a game students can print off a free voucher for at www.mgoblue.com/studentvoucher.
The Eagles, picked to finish eighth in their conference, are led by junior point guard Tyrese Rice (21.3 points per game, all-ACC preseason first-team) and freshman shooting guard Rakim Sanders (16.3 points per game) - a pair of slashers.
Beilein said the area his team needs the most work on is on-the-ball defense, staying in front of quick guards, so Udoh's 7-foot-3 wingspan will be particularly important in the middle of the 1-3-1 zone defense.
And Boston College's starting frontcourt - Tyrelle Blair (6-foot-11, 242 pounds), Shamari Spears (6-foot-6, 238 pounds) and Tyler Roche (6-foot-7, 220 pounds) - seems like it could physically dominate Michigan. But Udoh's defensive tools will also offer help, especially since he's more active than earlier in the season.
"When it comes to rebounding with Boston College and some of the bigger, stronger, thicker teams we'll play, we just got to try to muck out these loose ones, tap it to ourselves," Beilein said. "We're not going to end up out-muscling people, but if we use our quickness, and effort area is huge, . that gives you a chance to win."
The change in demeanor hasn't gone unnoticed. Udoh, who many expected would start this season, has come off the bench in every game. But he started the second half for the first time against Western Kentucky Saturday.
"That told me I was doing all right," Udoh said. "But I've always got to do better."
With that attitude, he may even progress in the weakest part of his game.
"His foul shooting has not been good," Beilein said. "It will come around. I like what I see with him, but it's not going to get fixed in a day. And it's not going to be fixed overnight. But it's something I know he'll work at."