No-quit mind-set powers UNT forward

DENTON, Texas -- The knock on George Odufuwa during his days at Kimball High in Oak Cliff was that his motor ran hot and cold.

That's no longer an issue for the North Texas standout.

It hasn't been since the 6-8, 240-pound Odufuwa arrived in Denton after transferring from Arizona State. In fact, during his redshirt season, Odufuwa occasionally had to be separated from former UNT big man Keith Wooden because things got too heated in the paint.

"About every other practice," coach Johnny Jones said, cracking a smile.

Channeling that intensity has allowed Odufuwa (OH-doo-fah-wah) to emerge as the centerpiece of a Sun Belt championship team that will play second-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday afternoon in Oklahoma City.

Odufuwa has developed into one of the NCAA's most relentless rebounders, ranking 13th in Division I with 10.7 per game. He averages 11.5 points on 61.3 percent shooting, making him one of 21 Division I players to average a double-double.

"Over the last couple of years, I've been letting it come out more," Odufuwa said. "I've been playing harder, more intensity. I changed my mindset: Play as hard as you can the whole time you're out there."

Added UNT power forward Eric Tramiel: "He's the heart and soul. He gives it everything he's got with his aggressiveness. We wouldn't be where we are without him."

The Mean Green (24-8) have no chance to advance unless Odufuwa is a dominant force against Kansas State, which consistently beat up Big 12 foes on the boards.

Good thing Odufuwa is at his best when challenged, something Jones realized while watching the daily practice battles between Odufuwa and Wooden, who had also transferred from Arizona State. Odufuwa offered a reminder during the final two rounds of the Sun Belt tournament, when he snatched 30 rebounds. He grabbed two tough boards in traffic and had a title-sealing blocked shot in the final 90 seconds of the championship game against Troy.

His off-the-floor personality is a stark contrast to the relentlessness he displays in the paint. Odufuwa is mild-mannered, soft-spoken and studious, as evidenced by his 3.7 grade point average as a finance major.

"When he comes on the court, he's a monster," Tramiel said. "When it comes to rebounding, you don't want to be in his way, I'll tell you that."

Jones knew Odufuwa, who was ranked the No. 19 player in the state as a senior by TexasHoops.com, had that type of potential. That's why Jones was so excited when he got a call informing him that Odufuwa wanted to transfer from Arizona State, where the coach who had recruited him was fired before he enrolled.

Odufuwa wanted to play close to home, and the Mean Green's appearance in the 2007 NCAA tournament helped make his decision easy.

Odufuwa's physical tools were never in doubt. He's strong and active and has great hands and good athletic ability.

"When you have that type of ability, it becomes more about desire," Jones said. "It's about channeling your energy in the right way. Instead of sitting there and banging and running into somebody, it's about trying to get by them and attack the basketball."

That took a little while for Odufuwa. Jones said he saw the something click in Odufuwa midway through last season, when he averaged 6.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

"I've always had the potential to be a good rebounder," Odufuwa said. "Since I've been here, I've grown into it."

That will be tested Thursday against some bullies from the Big 12.

Tim MacMahon covers the colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.