DENVER (CBS4) – The regular season for the University of Denver Pioneers didn’t go quite so well. They finished 8-6 in the Summit League and 15-14 overall. And this year was tough for senior Chris Udofia, not because the team struggled, but because one of the people he looks up to the most wasn’t there for any of it.
Udofia is a force on the basketball court.
“He rebounds the ball, he blocks shots, he runs the court,” head coach Joe Scott said. “He puts the ball in the basket a variety of ways, he shares the ball with his teammates. I mean one of his best attributes is, if you look at his statistics this year, I mean his assist-to-turnover ratio is ridiculous.”
If this season ends in the same fashion as last year, Udofia will have to clear some space in the trophy case. Following his junior year he was named All-WAC First Team, All-WAC Defensive Team, DU Male Athlete of the Year, and the list goes on and on. And he did it all injured.
“I had a torn labrum on my right side of my hip … I found out about it prior to the season, during the summertime, I guess,” Udofia said. “They said it would be like a 6-month recovery, so I figured I’d try to rehab it and get the shots that I could do to help alleviate the pain while still be able to play during the season.”
But that wasn’t the only thing Udofia had to deal with. In October of his junior season, he received a call from his mother letting him know that his father, Don, had gastrointestinal cancer.
“I kind of broke down on the phone. I just didn’t realize that something could happen to my dad, who I’ve looked up to my whole life,” Udofia said. “To get a phone call saying, ‘The doctors say he has 6 months to live.’ It’s just in the middle of the season, and, you know, along with school and all of the other things a college kid has to deal with, to have that when we’re trying to lead the team on the court, it was just a little overwhelming to go with at the time.”
When Udofia got the news he didn’t shared it with anybody. The only time he discussed it is when he called home to talk with his dad.
“He used to call him every night, ‘Dad, I hope you’re getting better. I hope you get well soon. I would like for you to come over and see me like you used to,’ “ his mother Theresa Udofia said.
For two months Udofia kept the news to himself. And then, no longer able to keep it in, he took his coach to a coffee shop and shared for the first time that his dad was dying.
“It was kind of a blessing that I had someone to vent to, especially because he realizes what’s going on in life better than probably most people just because he’s with us every day,” Udofia said. “It was a nice outlet to have him sit down with me talk to me about this.”
He thought about leaving DU and returning home to Texas to be with his dad, but his father wouldn’t hear of it. So Udofia stayed in school until news came from Dallas.
“The night before he passed I called to Coach Scott and I told him he should send Chris home because they told me that there’s no hope for him,” Theresa said.
“I got a phone call when he was in ICU and he wasn’t responsive by the time I got back to Dallas, so didn’t really get a chance to say ‘bye,’ which it still bothers me today,” Udofia said. “It’s just something that I’ve kind of come to terms with and I just try to stay as strong as I can right now.”
Last weekend Udofia played his final home game in a Denver uniform with his mom on hand to watch. And although his dad gone, Udofia believes a piece of him lives on.
“He said, ‘Mom, I know this is so sad for you, but remember, Dad has passed away, a part of Dad is in me (and his brothers),’ ” Theresa said. “As soon as he told that to me I was a bit strengthened.”
After his stand-out career at DU, Scott says Udofia has been as much of a role model off the court than on, and that his impact at DU has been tremendous.