Coming off a breakout sophomore campaign where he was named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, junior forward Chris Udofia expects the Pioneers defense to continue to flourish as the team transitions into its first season of Western Athletic Conference play.
The Irving, Texas, native spearheads a Denver defensive unit that held its opponents to 60.5 points per game last season, finishing 23rd in the nation in scoring defense.
Udofia believes leading by example, specifically on the defensive end, will be instrumental to the team's success this season.
"Team defense is a concrete part of our team, so I know I have to keep playing like I did last season so that I can set an example for everybody else, especially the freshmen, and show them right off the bat that this is how the University of Denver plays defense," said Udofia.
During his sophomore campaign, the forward averaged a team-high 15.6 points per game in conference play, while finishing second on the team in rebounds with 5.2 per games.
Udofia recorded 72 blocks last year, averaging 2.3 per contest, which was good enough to place him fourth all-time in program history for single-season blocks.
"As a team our goal is not to give up easy shots, specifically open three-point shots, but for me as a forward it's all about protecting the basket and not giving up easy put-backs down low," said Udofia. "Blocking shots is a huge part of my game, but it's really all about helping my teammates out whenever I can, whether it's off a screen or any type of play that gets into the lane. I try to read the play and get my hands on the ball and make it difficult for the opponent to run their offense."
Udofia notes that his relationship with Olson and O'Neale is extremely important to the team's success this season, as they continue to mature together as teammates.
"We all have a special role with getting stuff going on offense," Udofia said. "With Brett, our goal is to get him more shots this year because he can shoot. Our focus on offense has to continue to be on taking good shoots and to making sure we get the ball in the hot hand."
As he asserts himself as an upperclassman and team captain that leads by example on defense, Udofia will be responsible for other forms of leadership with the team graduating six seniors last spring.
One of the leadership roles he expects to take on is mentoring the young players on the team as they transition into playing vital roles off the bench.
"There are three positions up for grabs right now, and we've got a few competitions going on right now between some of the freshman guards and between Blake Foeman and Cam Griffin for our No. 5 spot," Udofia said. "I don't think all the pressure falls onto my shoulders in terms of getting them up to speed, but what I want to do is just try the best I can every day at my position. In the end, that will benefit the team and the young guys the most."
Similar to players before him, Udofia has played in every single game in his DU career, staring all 31 games last season. He believes this experience has helped him see the game better.
"In previous years, I probably ran around without seeing the purpose of all the motion, but now I can see the game more and be a lot calmer and do a lot more things with confidence on both ends of the court," Udofia said.
As the program continues to ascend, Udofia soars alongside with it.