Ekpe Udoh was driving home from a morning workout in Oakland, Calif., on May 24 when his cell phone rang.
It was his brother on the other end.
The call wasn't pleasant.
“He told me it was a tornado going on,” Udoh remembered.
Udoh, an Edmond native, had just capped a roller coaster rookie season with the Golden State Warriors and suddenly feared for his family back in Oklahoma. He got online as soon as he got home. He watched live feeds of weather reports from all the local news stations.
“I saw it was on the path to hitting Edmond so I started getting nervous,” said Udoh, who attended Edmond Santa Fe.
As he sat glued to his laptop 1,600 miles away, Udoh wouldn't know for another two hours that his family would be fine. The twister never touched down in their Edmond neighborhood.
But the images Udoh saw during those few hours stuck with him. Seeing pictures of people who had lost everything packed a serious punch, and Udoh wanted to do anything he could to help.
On Saturday, the 24-year-old, 6-foot-10 inch Warriors forward came back to Oklahoma to lend a hand. Udoh made the five-hour drive from Waco, Texas, where he is attending summer school at his alma mater Baylor, to assist with ongoing American Red Cross relief efforts in Piedmont and Chickasha.
“It just hit so close,” Udoh said. “You hear of stuff that happened in Haiti, all the natural disasters; Memphis. You just want to help. But when it hits so close to home, I just had to come back home and give a helping hand with whatever I could do.”
He couldn't believe what the catastrophe left behind.
“It was bad. It looked bad. No houses. You see cars that were thrown in the air and now they're just rubble,” Udoh said.
“Growing up here, I knew about tornado alley and tornado season. But as a kid, I never really got out there. And now I can see it's really scary.”
Udoh returned soon after the twisters first struck, but he wasn't allowed to assist in relief efforts due to precautionary reasons.
“I just waited,” he said. “But I wanted to come back and take care of business.”
So Udoh spent Saturday morning hauling debris. He picked up wood, metal and barbwire. He cleaned out a pool and straightened up a field.
During a break, Udoh spoke with a family that lost their home. They told him they only made it out alive because nine of them were in a storm shelter.
Udoh didn't need any further confirmation, but he knew right then he was doing the right thing.
“It's really something when disaster happens and people can come together and help for a good cause,” Udoh said at the end of his day of service. “It's great.”