Like long lost brothers, Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh and Oklahoma State’s Obi Muonelo can’t wait for their reunion to kick into high gear today at the Ferrell Center.
They’ll laugh, reminisce and maybe talk a little trash.
Oh, that’s already started.
“Obi says he’s going to come in and dunk on me,” Udoh said. “I said, ‘I’ll be waiting on you.’ ”
Udoh and Muonelo have been friends since they were 5-year-olds growing up in Edmond, Okla. They led Edmond Santa Fe High School to an Oklahoma state championship in 2005, and have constantly stayed in touch during their college years.
Four years ago, Muonelo watched his old buddy go off to the far north to play basketball at Michigan. Today, they’ll face each other for the first time since Udoh transferred to Baylor.
“We’re best friends and we’ve always stayed in touch,” Muonelo said. “We lived across the street from each other and walked to school every day. I was excited when he decided to transfer to Baylor. It’s pretty rare to play against him.”
Udoh is having a breakout year for the Bears, leading the Big 12 with 11.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots per game while averaging 14.1 points. Baylor’s gifted 6-10 junior forward doesn’t have a bigger fan than Muonelo.
“Ekpe has had a monster year,” Muonelo said. “But I’m not surprised. He’s always been a rebounder and shot blocker. Back in high school, he just scored when he needed to do it. But he could always score.”
Muonelo has been a big contributor to the Cowboys since arriving in Stillwater four years ago. Midway through his senior season, the 6-5 guard is Oklahoma State’s second-leading scorer with an 11.4 average while chipping in 5.5 rebounds and shooting a team-best 39.1 percent from 3-point range.
“Obi did most of the scoring for us back in high school,” Udoh said. “But that was never a problem. I always liked to defend and rebound. As long as we won, that’s all that really mattered to me.”
Long before they began playing high school basketball together, they were regulars on the asphalt at Meadow Lakes Park near their neighboorhood in north Edmond.
As kids, they often found themselves trying to defend older guys who liked to play a physical brand of basketball. You either had to get tough or get out.
“Everybody came out and we’d play until dark,” Udoh said. “You had to earn your way on to the court. We learned how to play basketball there. Obi and I played together for so long that we developed some chemistry.”
Former Santa Fe High School coach Guy Hardaker knew Udoh had basketball potential as early as second grade.
“My wife was a second-grade teacher, and Ekpe was standing eye to eye with her when he was in her class,” said Hardaker, now the women’s basketball coach at the University of Central Oklahoma. “Second-graders aren’t supposed to be doing that. Ekpe and Obi were inseparable. During recess, they’d grab a basketball and hook it up out there on the pavement.”
Udoh and Muonelo began developing chemistry with other players like Chance Hardaker, Drew Haymaker and Andy Shaw on youth teams. By their high school years, they were an Oklahoma basketball juggernaut.
After roaring through the regular season in 2004-05, Santa Fe needed a last-second 3-point desperation shot by Muonelo to beat Oklahoma power Putnam City in the Class 6A semifinals.
“I hit a wild, leaning floater at the last second,” Muonelo said.
“Obi wasn’t even looking at the rim,” Udoh said.
Santa Fe went on to beat Bartlesville for the state championship. Even back then, Hardaker could see he had a pair of major college prospects in Udoh and Muonelo.
“Ekpe was always a smart basketball player,” Hardaker said. “He was a great shot blocker with great timing. We could have thrown the ball into him every time and scored 25 or 30 per game, but he was never concerned with leading the league in scoring. He was always a crowd favorite. He could be intense and still have a smile on his face, and the you couldn’t help but root for him.”
While Udoh took more time to develop, Muonelo was so polished by his high school years that major college recruiters jumped on him early. He could bury a trey or take it to the hoop with ease.
“Obi was our playmaker,” Hardaker said. “He played two-guard for us, and could do whatever he wanted. If he wanted to post up, he could do that.”
As seniors in 2006, Santa Fe had another great team that lost to Putnam City in the playoffs. Muonelo decided to stay close to home and attend Oklahoma State, while Udoh headed to Michigan.
“I said to Ekpe, ‘Are you crazy? It’s freezing up there,’ ” Muonelo said. “We never made a plan to play college ball together. I just think Ekpe wanted to get away from home, and I was a home boy.”
But today the two old friends will be back on the court together playing for rival Big 12 teams.
“We’re like brothers,” Udoh said. “You can’t lose touch with those kinds of friends.”