By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com
The NBA and Twitter have a wonderful relationship.
The sport is ideally suited for live tweeting and this has allowed writers, bloggers and fans to easily join together in an increasingly large online community. Seldom mixed into this community, however, are the players themselves.
Enter Ekpe Udoh.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ fourth year big man out of Baylor University has quickly created a niche for himself within “basketball Twitter” thanks to his willingness to interact with fans. His latest online adventure is one rarely associated with professional athletes: a book club. The club started last week with the first book being The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.
As a member of the book club, I talked with Udoh about his plans for the group, the value he places on fan interaction, and what he expects from the Bucks this season.
NBA.com: Let’s start with the obvious question: Why did you decide to start a book club?
Udoh: This past year I actually started reading books more. I really haven’t been the one to sit down and read. And you know? I started to like it. You learn about people’s struggles and their mindsets. It just became something I wanted to do. I never thought about being in a book club, especially as a kid when I thought it was nerdy. But now I’m starting to realize you need to read. Especially with all the down time I have. Why not grab a couple of people to do it with me?
NBA.com: Why’d you pick the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch?
Udoh: One of my former assistants when I was at Golden State (Lloyd Pierce, now with the Philadelphia 76ers) recommended it to me.
NBA.com: How are you enjoying the book so far?
Udoh: I like it, man. Somebody spoiled it and told me he really died. That’s tough. It’s actually his last lecture and his last book period.
NBA.com: Any of your Bucks teammates reading the book?
NBA.com: You try to get any of them?
Udoh: Not yet. I just limited the number of members to 10. But I may open it up again if I don’t get Twitter interactions on Fridays. But I’ll invite them all. They’re going to see me reading more and more and they’ll be like, “Hey, man. What you reading?”
NBA.com: Do you plan to have this run solely through Twitter?
Udoh: I’m just going to stick to the Twitter and if it starts to gain in momentum then we’ll see. I want to get to the point when summertime comes I can set up a trip through my corporation to get everybody together in one city. We can rent out a conference room in a hotel to have a day about books and life.
NBA.com: Sounds great. Glad I’m in the club.
Udoh: [laughs] Now you want to be my friend.
NBA.com: [laughs] Now I’ll finish the book. How many people are in the book club?
Udoh: It’s 11.
NBA.com: Have you though about what the second book is going to be?
Udoh: No I haven’t. I’m just going to randomly ask somebody.
NBA.com: What are you hoping to get out of this experience?
Udoh: I don’t know. Just reading books with other people and talking about life. They may be going through struggles and hopefully this can ease that struggle a little bit. Make the book club something to look forward to doing. Especially come summertime.
NBA.com: You also have the Hangout Squad on Twitter (a group of Udoh’s Twitter followers who occasionally join Udoh in a Google Hangout). How important is fan interaction to you as an NBA player?
Udoh: It’s very important to me. I know growing up as a kid, we didn’t have the resources, but you wouldn’t think a kid could get on a video conference call with an NBA athlete. So I think that’s a special thing I can do and I ran with it. They enjoy it and I enjoy it as well.
NBA.com: Have you thought about any other ways to interact with fans you’d like to start doing?
Udoh: I might make another squad.
NBA.com: Maybe start a podcast?
Udoh: You know, that would be interesting.
NBA.com: Call it ‘Tuesdays with Ekpe’.
Udoh: [laughs] I might have to hire you. That sounds like a good thing.
NBA.com: You’re starting to get more active on Instagram, too.
Udoh: Oh yeah, man. When Instagram first started all I thought it was for was for stunting. Like showing off what you have and what you’re doing. And I wouldn’t get into that even though my friends always wanted me to join. But one of my good friends showed me his Instagram and it was nothing like that. So I decided to have a fun Instagram with crazy stuff or pictures of me and some of my people.
NBA.com: Are you gunning for a few NBA TV Social Media Awards?
Udoh: I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t strive to do that. If it happens, it happens. I’m just going to be me and make people smile or laugh.
NBA.com: Moving on to basketball, what was your offseason goal?
Udoh: Work harder than I have. I gave up drinking so it’s all natural energy now which will allow me to keep my energy up. I just focused on getting my conditioning right.
NBA.com: Do you feel like you could’ve tried harder the past few seasons?
Udoh: I mean conditioning is really the key to everything. I probably wasn’t as conditioned as I would have liked. But I’m pretty good now after conditioning this summer.
NBA.com: One of the themes I just read in The Last Lecture was about the value of “brick walls” in life and how they’re built to be conquered by those who want it badly enough. I feel like this applies well to your first few years in the league as you have, in my opinion, faced more unusual circumstances and obstacles than most sixth picks. You’re facing challenges again this year with the Bucks additions of Miroslav Raduljica and Zaza Pachulia this summer. How did these signings affect your motivation?
Udoh: I’m just going to work hard and be aggressive offensively and defensively. It’s the business side of the game and I don’t really get into that. But I did take notice to it. I’ve just got to come out and show what I’ve worked on.
NBA.com: What would you say your role is on the Bucks right now?
Udoh: Come in and be the defensive presence that I’ve been. Be more of a communicator on defense and rebound better. When I get the opportunity to be aggressive with the ball, I have to take that avenue.
NBA.com: How’s the team chemistry feeling this year compared to last season?
Udoh: It’s good. I think right now it’s better. We’re just growing as a team which is most important.
NBA.com: Has there been much difference between Scott Skiles and Larry Drew?
Udoh: For the most part. To get to this level you’re already a pretty serious coach so it’s about the same. Just some things will be done differently.
NBA.com: What have been the major changes to the team’s style of play?
Udoh: You’ll have to wait and see. I can’t spoil it.
NBA.com: I’ve seen the numbers Drew focused on at practice and it seems like you guys will be running.
Udoh: Running and gunning and doing all of the above. What was it 25 assists?
NBA.com: Yep. 25.
Udoh: Yeah, I mean. That’s something special. We had a streak of about three or four games two seasons ago when we had 30-plus assists. So when you’re playing like that, unselfish and giving the ball, it’s pretty impressive. And I think that style will help us this season.