The Enforcer
by Trevor Mitchell,

Free agent forward Mfon Udoka has brought a new style of toughness to the Comets lineup.
David Sherman/WNBAE/Getty Images
For a team to play at its maximum level, each player has to recognize her role and find her niche within the system.

For the veteran-led Houston Comets, there has never been a doubt about the particular roles of each teammate. Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson handle most of the scoring load, Ukari Figgs directs the offense, Michelle Snow crashes the boards and the steady Janeth Arcain is the glue that keeps the team together.

This season, however, the Comets have added something new to their arsenal - an enforcer. Six-foot forward Mfon Udoka may look like a nice girl, but on the hardwood she is just the opposite.

Less than two months ago, Udoka came to Houston as a free agent simply trying to earn a spot on the 2003 Comets roster. After an impressive training camp and start to the season, the Oregon native has done much more than make the team; she has become a vital part of Coach Van Chancellor’s rotation.

Chancellor’s praise for Udoka began when she stepped up big during the last week of training camp. The Comets coach even stopped practice one day to call out his new free agent forward.

“In all my years of coaching there has never been a player to pick up things this quickly,” said Chancellor during training camp. "I couldn't be more pleased with her right now."

Udoka graduated from DePaul University in 1998 and signed as a free agent with the Detroit Shock. After appearing in only three games, she was waived and decided to take her talents to Portugal. In the summer of 1999, Udoka tore her ACL and was forced to take a break from basketball. While rehabbing she decided to concentrate on other matters that were important to her. She received her degree in 2000 and ever since has been on a long journey to the WNBA.

Udoka’s path to Houston had several stops along the way including Birmingham, Alabama, China and Israel. However, it was her play as a member of the National Women’s Basketball League’s Chicago Blaze that has her where she is today.

“There was one game where we played against the (NWBL) Houston Stealth in Chicago and I had a really good game,” said Udoka. “Scotty (Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott) happened to be there and that kind of put the word out. So I guess from that game on they were kind of checking me out.”

Udoka began her first season with the Comets in grand fashion. In her very first game, she started in place of the injured Tina Thompson and scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds. Many Comets fans wondered who exactly this new No. 30 was in the starting lineup. In her second outing she surprised again by tallying 12 points in the same starting role.

Since Thompson returned and has been playing at an MVP level, Udoka’s minutes have been reduced, but she is still happy with her role on the team. Whenever Chancellor signals for her to enter the game, she knows what he expects.

“Rebounding, defense, another scoring presence, but mainly toughness is what I bring into the game,” Udoka said. “I don’t have the size that most bigger players do in the post, so I have to use my strength to make up for my size."

Udoka puts up the off-balance jumper during Houston's season-opening win over Seattle.
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
The Comets have never been a physical team, but now they finally have a player who is willing to come in and force the action and do a little bit of the dirty work. Udoka has a patented spin move in the paint where she keeps her elbows high to get her shot off quickly. This is the move she uses to collect the majority of her points, but she does have the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper.

“With all our injuries everybody is going to have to step up and contribute,” said the Comets forward. “Teams are going to be throwing double teams at Tina and Sheryl when she gets back and thinking the rest of us are not going to do anything. So we are going to knock down shots and fill in the best way we can.”

The good thing about Mfon is that she doesn’t actually have to score to have an impact on a game. Just by mixing it up in the paint, many opposing players are often deterred from the basket. In the Comets’ 77-68 victory over Minnesota on June 17, Udoka committed five fouls in only 11 minutes of action.

“She actually fouls about 13-14 times a game,” said Chancellor. “But she is aggressive, she works hard, and she has a great attitude. She is exactly what our team needs.”

While many people including Chancellor have trouble saying her name, Mfon isn’t bothered one bit. She is just happy to be here with the Comets. Chancellor has decided to take an easier approach, nicknaming his free agent forward “The Fonz” after Henry Winkler's character in the television show Happy Days.

“The name Mfon is Nigerian and means grace or gift, but people have come up with all sorts of names for me,” said Udoka. “The Fonz, Fonzarella, Fon, it’s all good with me though. Just don’t call me 'Moofon.' My name is pronounced like ummm ummm good.”

Udoka’s style of play will definitely be needed come playoff time when every basket is crucial. Her emotion, toughness and work ethic may soon prove to be the extra ingredient the Comets need to regain their championship form.

“I’m having a great time,” said Udoka. “I’ve always wanted to come to Texas and I’m really happy to be a part of this organization. But my main goal is to help bring the WNBA championship back to Houston.”

And if the Comets are in a position where they have a shot at the WNBA title in September, wouldn’t that just be “ummm ummm good?”