Professionalism pays off for Spurs reserves Professionalism pays off for Spurs reserves
By Mike Monroe
Long after most Spurs practices have ended and the Big Three have either headed for home, or reported to the athletic trainers for some sort of treatment, the players at the end of the bench remain on the team's practice court for intensely competitive, round-robin, one-on-one games.
At stake is nothing more than bragging rights for 24 hours, but the games are an exercise in professionalism for players like Ime Udoka, Jacque Vaughn, Malik Hairston and Fabricio Oberto.
Udoka had played 10 minutes in the five games that preceded the Spurs' back-to-back home games against the Mavericks and Trail Blazers on Tuesday and Wednesday. He logged slightly more than 29 minutes in those two. His defense contributed to holding both teams under 40 percent shooting.
The one-on-one games contribute to his being ready for the opportunity.
“If you're not getting the time on the court, you've got to make it up somehow,” said Udoka, who had six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals against the Trail Blazers. “There's no way to simulate real game action, but if you play one-on-one like that, it also helps you get some energy and frustration out and work up some sweat.”
Injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan created opportunity for Udoka, and he was ready to take advantage.
“We've got a group of character guys,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “(Ime) earns his money. Whether he's playing or not, he's ready to play. Guys like him and Jacque, and Fab, when he was sitting, do what they're supposed to do to be ready to help their teammates. That's just a tribute to their character.”
After having a regular place in the game-night playing rotation last season, adjusting to spot duty isn't easy.
“You just have to accept that one night you might not play at all, and another night, you might get significant minutes,” Udoka said. “You have to mentally prepare yourself for it.
“It's not what you'd like. It's not ideal. But if you keep your mental side right and you're ready for all situations, all it takes is one game to get back in the mix.”
Udoka gained a spot in the Spurs' mix last season because of his defensive tenacity and toughness. With Duncan's right knee ailing, his defensive traits are useful to the Spurs.
“We're a smaller, quicker, scrappy team,” Udoka said of the Duncan-less Spurs. “That's how we've been the last two games, out there hustling, and getting each others' backs. That's the one thing Pop has commented on, both at halftime and after the game: the defensive effort.
“That's what we're going to have to do to make up for the lack of scoring with Tim out.”