In a difficult season, Mfon Udofia has become Tech’s anchor

He has known highs and lows, but Mfon Udofia has perservered. (AP photo)

He has known highs and lows at Georgia Tech, but Mfon Udofia has perservered. (AP photo)

Mfon Udofia was the second-ranked prospect in the fourth-ranked recruiting class of 2009, and he arrived at Georgia Tech believing great things were possible. “Yeah,” he said. “Final Four, national championship.”

Three years later, Udofia is the point guard on a Tech team that required the fullness of a regular season to win four conference games. “This way is harder,” he said last week, speaking after the Jackets beat Wake Forest on Saturday. “But it’s still playing ball.”

One by one, heralded contemporaries  have departed: Derrick Favors to the NBA after one season; Brian Oliver to Seton Hall after two; Glen Rice suspended last month without hope of restoration. Given that the other two members of the Class of 2009 — Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey — were redshirted as freshmen, Udofia remains the strongest link to the bold expectations that became a massively tempered reality.

“Sometimes I feel like the last man standing,” Udofia said, and he smiled.

He spoke after a victory that kept the Jackets from finishing dead last in the ACC. He’d had one of his better games — 15 points on seven shots, five assists against one turnover — and he takes pride in having persevered. After two seasons of being made to feel he wasn’t a “true” point guard, he’s actually playing like one.

He started his first collegiate game, and the next 24 to boot. Whereupon Paul Hewitt, then the coach of a gifted team was in peril of missing the NCAA tournament, turned to Moe Miller, and Udofia disappeared. He worked one minute in Tech’s loss to Duke in the 2010 ACC tournament final, not at all in the NCAA Round 1 victory over Oklahoma State.

Next year, same thing. Udofia started the first 11 games before again ceding his position to Miller. It didn’t help that Udofia was playing alongside Iman Shumpert, a fine player but never a “true” point guard himself. “I really wasn’t the point guard my first two years,” Udofia said. “This is my first full season as a point guard.”

Which sounds odd, given that Udofia  was ranked the sixth-best point guard nationally exiting Miller Grove High, but rhyme and reason took a hike in the final years of Hewitt. To be fair, it wasn’t as if Udofia had performed so well as to make his position unassailable. But the same coach who stuck with Jarrett Jack through a rough rookie season — and was rewarded with a run to the NCAA title game the next year — kept finding reasons to demote Udofia.

Hewitt’s successor had no such opt-out. Shumpert is the NBA, and Moe Miller completed his eligibility last March. By default, Udofia had to function as the point guard. To his credit, he has grown into the job. Over the last month he has taken to shooting less — only one game of 10-plus shots over the past eight — and distributing more (38 assists against 18 turnovers).

No, he isn’t Kenny Anderson or Mark Price or Stephon Marbury, but Udofia isn’t the reason Tech has won so seldom. The Jackets are 11-19, but they were 13-18 last season with Shumpert and Oliver and Rice and Moe Miller. Given its limitations, this team has done about as you’d expect, and its refusal to quit on Brian Gregory bodes well for coach and program.

“When [Gregory] first came in, I knew it would be hard,” Udofia said. “You don’t know what to expect. We had to buy into the system. As a point guard, I  had to buy into the system.”

Consider him sold. Said Gregory of Udofia: “If you compare him to the beginning of the season, even in some games where he played well, he’s like a completely different person.”

This season hasn’t been easy. The next figures to be better. The Jackets will move into their refurbished arena, and a good recruiting class — though not quite as highly ranked as the 2009 crew — is expected. Gregory and his players will know one another better next time around, and the coach won’t have to wonder if his point guard is up to ACC snuff, or if his point guard is really a point guard at all.

First, though, comes this week’s ACC tournament. Tech isn’t expected to do much, but its point guard sees reason to believe. “We’re a good team,” Udofia said. “We know that in our locker room. We’ve gotten better.”

For sure, one Jacket has. This one.

By Mark Bradley

51 comments Add your comment

SmartestFan

March 6th, 2012
2:02 pm

Well, at least we can find out who is the Smartest College Sports Fan http://www.smartestfan.com

drew

March 6th, 2012
2:09 pm

Udofia has gotten better every year. If Hewitt hadn’t stunted his growth by pulling him off the point for Mo and Shumpert, he’d be even better right now.

Despite their record, I have not seen any sign of them quitting on CBG, and that bodes well. Given time, I think Brian Gregory will turn this program around.

hewitt fan

March 6th, 2012
2:21 pm

udofia sucks

hewitt fan

March 6th, 2012
2:23 pm

i bet next time gt fans ignore mb

Teddy Roosevelt

March 6th, 2012
2:24 pm

Looking forward to next year!

Teddy Roosevelt

March 6th, 2012
2:25 pm

Hewitt sucks

wes

March 6th, 2012
2:40 pm

Great article, Mark. Very observant…

Udofia not being given the chance to play point guard for an entire season was one of many reasons Coach Hewitt drove me crazy!

duber1958

March 6th, 2012
2:40 pm

The problem with Udofia was always that even when starting as point guard it was Shumpert who thought and played like he was the point guard so he never developed the skills he needed. Hewitt just let Shumpert do whatever he wanted to on the court, continually going 1 against 5. Over the last few games we have seen the development of Udofia and also because of that we are seeing our big men, Miller and Holsey being used as they shoud be.

GT Childhood/WF Grad

March 6th, 2012
2:49 pm

I was impressed with many of Tech’s pieces on Saturday, most notably Mfon, Holsey, Miller and the guy who couldn’t miss from 3. Y’all might bounce back quicker than most think…

Of course, there’s a good chance my Deacs’ D made your squad look a lot better!

Kevin

March 6th, 2012
3:36 pm

Despite the struggles, it’s been a lot easier to root for this Tech squad than the one last season. Here’s hoping the Jackets can pull off an upset in the 1st round of the ACC Tournament or at least give Miami a good scare.

The rut

March 6th, 2012
3:47 pm

Whatever happens in the tourney, I love watching
Tech pound the ball inside. Fire P Hewitt! Oh, already done that

Andy

March 6th, 2012
3:56 pm

Enjoyed reading this, Mark. Despite the frustrations that came from watching this talented player over the past few years, he can really be a joy to watch. Here’s to hoping he can lead the squad to a victory or two this weekend.

GTPhenom

March 6th, 2012
3:58 pm

Paul Hewitt really hurt the growth and development of Mfon. I’m holding out hope that after this season and an offseason coming up, he can really progress and be ready to take the ACC by storm next year. With Carter coming in to fill that PF position that we lost when Favors left after one season, and Miller progressing more as a big man in the middle, and with Mfon distributing the ball better next year, the 2012/2013 season could actually be a surprise one for us. Especially when you consider that this team had considerably less talent than last year and still almost matched them in wins. Pull off an upset in the ACC Tournament, and I’ll honestly call this season as close to a success as any GT fan could have imagined.

Boobie Bowden

March 6th, 2012
5:03 pm

Gosh dang, someone stole Bark Madly’s ID and wrote a half-way positive article about Tech. Who would have thunk it?

BTW, hats off to Mfon for being a class guy and a team player.

Outside Observer

March 6th, 2012
5:25 pm

Haha. Hewitt Fan came back. Takes moxie to come back after the berating Hewitt has taken, and the fact he led George Mason to a likely NIT appearance. Must be those ACC refs… I agree with most of the others here. The players haven’t quit under BG. I really like that and it is encouraging for next year.

Robert Barron

March 6th, 2012
5:55 pm

Nice article Mark.
Wish Udofia had gotten to be the hero against VT as he had game winning shot before late started clock allowed a VT 3 pointer.

P

March 6th, 2012
6:10 pm

Very happy to see Mfon get props. Its likely u won’t see very many other players with as much a positive and blue collar, hard working attitude as Mfon. Next year will be a great year for Tech. Not sure if Mfon gets drafted, but knowing how hard he works, I predict we’ll see him playing better in the NBA one day.

Delbert D.

March 6th, 2012
6:22 pm

The original Brian Oliver of Lethal Weapons 3 was pressed into service as the starter at point guard early in his career, the opposite of Udofia. Just reminiscing, that’s all.

Supersize that order, mutt

March 6th, 2012
7:17 pm

Coach Gregory and Coach Johnson should both be fired.

GTAAA vp 77

March 6th, 2012
7:51 pm

Don’t act like Udofia was the Lone Ranger. Hewitt stunted every player not a “1 and doner”, most notably Anthony Morrow.

GT Alum

March 6th, 2012
8:23 pm

When you look at what we lost this season, the fact that we’re only 2 games off last season’s record is amazing. Looking forward to better days.

wardo

March 6th, 2012
8:24 pm

I’m suprised that anyone else is suprised to find out that Paul Hewitt was a joke. There was no “system” when he was here. Just roll the ball out there and play. I like Mfon, but it seems obvious that the recruiting service did him and us a dis-service by ranking him as highly as they did. He was not ready for the ACC right out of high school. But he is a tough kid and I like having him in the program under our new coach, who just might make a good player out of him.

For the 1st time in several years I see improvement on the court. That is a nice sight.

btgt69

March 6th, 2012
8:45 pm

All these young men have improved since the beginning, except of course Rice. Gregory is a great hire. BTW, THWg

Flowery Branch Yellow Jacket

March 6th, 2012
9:03 pm

Nice article Mark. I would also like to see something about the former walk-ons who were awarded scholarships for this season. Although they didn’t necessarily see a lot of playing time, it’s impossible to imagine that this year’s team could have enjoyed ANY measure of success without their willingness to put in the practice time. Kudos to these “unsung heroes” as well.

Jacket Type

March 6th, 2012
9:22 pm

Dont blame Hewitt for not using Udofia; he is not a point guard. Who can argue playing Moe Miller and current NBA player Shumpert? Umm, Tech is in dire need of a true point guard. Maybe if coach would ask Spurrier or Cali, they will let us have one…

moboman

March 6th, 2012
9:35 pm

Udofia never progressed under Hewitt, because there were no roles, no system, and no discipline. What a difference in player and team development. How many times did Hewitt flip flop on Moe and Mfon? The two were never in a regular rotation. One was always in the dog house, and the other standing around while Shumpert was showcased. Iman should have been the 2 guard on those teams. they were both done a disservice.

Jacket Type

March 6th, 2012
9:40 pm

How in the heck can he develop a 2 guard at best into a point guard. Take a look back at the long list of excellent point guards in Tech history, and someone thinks that Udofia belongs in that heralded list? I think Udofia is a hard worker, but nowhere near the talent Tech has seen at guard. Actually, Hewitt did him a favor by even giving him a shot at point. Credit PH for that…when you look at it. Udofia, as much as everyone likes him is not a point guard.

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 6th, 2012
11:09 pm

Phewitt is the worst coach in the history of NCAA sports (men & women).

This team doesn’t quit, like Blewitts. I’m hoping for two wins. We don’t have enough players to run with UNC and Duke after two games in a row. Next year will be much better.

Good article Mark, you can’t say enough good things about Udofia.

Paul in NH

March 6th, 2012
11:09 pm

Mark – Nice article. I have not been sold on Udofia as an ACC-caliber PG but I have been impressed by his hard work, maturity and commitment to his team this year. The young man should be proud of his performance.

Paul in NH

March 6th, 2012
11:13 pm

Jacket Type

March 6th, 2012
9:22 pm
Umm, Tech is in dire need of a true point guard. Maybe if coach would ask Spurrier or Cali, they will let us have one…
—–
I thought that Spurrier had a good track record of developing QB’s – who knew he turned out PGs as well?

Paul in NH

March 6th, 2012
11:29 pm

RAMBLE ON!!!
Hewitt had a great start at GT and a bad finish. There have been a number of GT coaches who were much worse that Hewitt – Duane Morrison (4-23 in his final year with the St. Valentine’s Massacre of on his record) in b’ball and Bill L***s in football immediately come to mind.
A number of ACC schools have had b’ball coaches who were much worse – UNC (Doherty), MD (Wade), NCSU (Lowe), FSU (Robinson), WF (Bzdelik) and others.
If you really want to find a coach who had major problems, may I suggest you Google “Dave Bliss”.

Javaris

March 6th, 2012
11:36 pm

Don’t talk bad about Hewitt. He helped me with the run and gun offense and turned me into a shooter. He also stuck up for me in court when I got caught. Too bad he was never concerned about anyone getting an education instead.

What?

March 6th, 2012
11:38 pm

Udofia may be a hard worker, but he is not a very good player. If he was any good, Tech would be a better team. Doesn’t matter how good the coach is if the players aren’t worth a flip. I don’t know how many games you people have watched, but the majority of the time Udofia looks lost on the court and makes stupid decisions.

ToeMeetsLeather

March 7th, 2012
7:04 am

As a TECH fan, I’ve never been this excited about one of our sports programs after a losing season.
Udofia’s progress, along with the “big guys”, seems to infer we have some solid coaching taking place.

With the influx of talent CBG has coming in, combined with the loss of very little off the present squad, I see a pretty signifcant move up the league standings next year for the Jackets. (Also, teams 3-8 lose quite a few seniors.) Hopefully Udofia will see the fruits of his hard work and for “sticking it out” at TECH.

ramblingbuzz

March 7th, 2012
7:48 am

The things about this year’s squad vs. last year’s is that at least there is a plan. You can actually see what this team is trying to do with the 5 guys on the floor. Last year it was like 5 individuals were forced to play togehter without any scheme. You can actually see improvement from the beginning of the year until now. And, oh yeah, this team finally beat UGA in Athens.

0 for 9

March 7th, 2012
8:32 am

does not make a point guard. Glad he works hard. Too bad he cannot shoot.

GT Dude

March 7th, 2012
8:35 am

the best part of this season is actually seeing player development!!!
Never ever saw this under the Hewitt administration.
Future Looks Bright, I might have to break out the shades once again
Go Jackets!

RaleighJacket

March 7th, 2012
9:42 am

I have met Mfon in person. He is a fine person who is a great representative of Georgia Tech and has developed greatly as a basketball player. He will have an even better senior year next year as the unquestioned leader of the team. How hard this team plays, even when undermanned, is a tribute to Coach Gregory and to Mfon, who stays after the players and encourages them on the court. I am proud of the effort of the Jackets and of Mfon and the results will come soon.

ANTOINEFORD

March 7th, 2012
10:09 am

I heard Rice was suspended for shaving points in the Miami game. Hope it’s not true.

Messin with Sasquatch

March 7th, 2012
10:23 am

jasonLuck

March 7th, 2012
10:23 am

Udofia has definitely improved this year….u can tell how CBG talks about him, he is a natural leader and his teammates follow him. Not only has he improved on the court, this kid gets it, last year he was Academic All ACC and im sure he has had similar success in the classroom this year. Thats what we all what correct? Productive smart young men for our society…He will graduate from Tech in 4 years with a degree in Business and if he doesnt play professionally he could be a great coach one day or great business man. Never the less he will continue to be a great person. Basketball is a bonus and a luxury and the kid is taking advantage of all opportunities.

Skeezix

March 7th, 2012
10:43 am

I am more optimistic about Tech’s future. They are playing as a team, with more consistency and with more heart. In 2 to 3 more years we could actually see Tech become competitive again in the ACC.

I hope they have a great ACC tournament.

Supersize that order, mutt

March 7th, 2012
10:52 am

Since nobody ever commented on it, I hope it is obvious that the post attributed to me at 7:17PM Tuesday was definitely NOT made by me. I have no desire to see either Gregory or Johnson be fired. Anybody who would come on these blogs and post things like that under the name of a regular blogger has some very serious psychological issues that need to be addressed. In other words, the creep belongs in the looney bin. I wish the damn AJC would set up some kind of email screening so that it would be impossible to make fake posts like that.

RAMBLE ON!!!

March 7th, 2012
11:29 am

No. Paul Phewitt is the worst coach in the history of coaching of any sport (men/women) from high school through Professional. Period.

…but I’m not bitter.

hey mfon

March 7th, 2012
1:16 pm

dont pay any attention to the negative posts. most are coming from ONE ball-less guy.

i guarantee none of them especially crack baby phewitt fan would say that to your face.

paul phewitt hurt your career mfon. big time. matter of fact he hurt the program. big time.

it is refreshing to see a coach like gregory actually coach the players causing them to improve as the season wears on.

we could have won 4 of our last 5 games this past season with a little luch. i take that hope into next season.

BravesFan79

March 7th, 2012
1:36 pm

I was happy when Udofia and Favors signed with Tech,thinking this was the making of a great team. Little did i know Udofia wasnt a great passer, and a horrible shooter. He was a typical AAU guard… drive to the hole for a layup, drive to the hole for a layup. Worked great in highschool, not so much in college! Hewitt should of seen he was a terrible shooter from the start, and went in another direction. Might of saved his job, and with a true dominant pt guard that 2010 team could of went all the way!

GT

March 7th, 2012
1:38 pm

Moe Miller was always a mystery to me. I think he was the beginning of the downfall for Hewitt. Many times Tech would build up a lead and Miller would come in and like a slow leak in a tire the lead would disappear. He couldn’t get the ball in from out of bounds, could take it up court and couldn’t find the open man under the basket. He would throw the ball to Gani Lawal instead of Derrick Favors, the whole offense run through Lawai. Then Lawai would get fouled got to the free throw line and miss about 50%. About tournament time they started running it through Favors and suddenly the first round draft choice started looking like the press clippings. I always thought Hewitt ran through Lawai as a reward for staying one more year and not running through Favors hoping he couldn’t leave the next year. Hewitt had lost Bosh after one year and I think he was trying not to have that happen twice. I think Miller may have help Hewitt in this manner of doing the wrong thing for a purpose of Hewitt’s not the present team’s. Kids on the team know when something like this is going on, and it does not sat well.

Udofia is a better guard than Miller. He is a treat when he drives to score and has a decent outside shot. Both set his teammates up, for open shots. I think this kid is all conference next year. I think he see playing time in the next level. He would have never realized this potential with Hewitt. Hewitt was into to recruiting not coaching. He set the table with kids like Favors. If he could have kept Favors another year he could have recruited about who he wanted to. You had those two kids rated below Favors at Kentucky getting all the pub, while Favors looked like a dud. Gregory is brilliant at feeding the big man. Daniel Miller looked like a walkon last year now he too will be in the draft some day. Kammeon Holsey is the most improved of all of them. How many college basketball players go to a school and get hided because of a head coach not wanting or knowing what he is doing. You could see little above average Tech players go to the pros and suddenly be stars. And we had to pay so much to Hewitt to do all this destruction. Mfon Udofia is a lucky man, to be the last man standing, if he had quiet no one, especially the press, would have realized how good he really was.

BravesFan79

March 7th, 2012
1:43 pm

That being said, if you read this Udof…. i think your senior year will be your best. Model yourself after a Andre Miller,, develop a floater, and look for clean passes; stay away from the outside shot. If he just developed a solid mid range game hed be ok. Youll never be a Steve Nash, play more like Rondo, and focus on defense and passing and drives.. and youll be better.

BravesFan79

March 7th, 2012
1:53 pm

Im not usually one to defend Hewitt, but Luke Schindser is one that blossomed under Hewitt.
Then again that was before Hewitt lost his offensive and defensive coordinators and thought it he could do it all himself by hiring no name assistants with little experience. In the end that was his undoing, it would be like the Falcons Mike Smith deciding to can his coordinators, and do everything himself. And as you can see, the results were disasterous.

William Casey

March 7th, 2012
2:18 pm

@SUPERSIZE: I knew that wasn’t you. I agree that AJC needs a system to prevent fake posting.

@MARK: “Given its limitations, this team has done about as you’d expect, and its refusal to quit on Brian Gregory bodes well for coach and program.” Exactly right! Anyone who has ever coached has had a season like this. This GT team is still playing hard. The pieces are there for improvement.

RE: Paul Hewitt is no longer our coach. Let’s give it a rest. However, if you want to blame a player for CPH’s downfall, it’s NOT Moe Miller. It’s Javaris Crittenden. I’m convinced that Crit scr*wed CPH by leading him to believe that he would be at GT for at least three years like Jack & Shumpert. Everyone knew that Young & Favors were 1 & dones. Crit’s leaving hurt GT basketball and his own career. Crit’s post GT “career” is evidence.