Who the heck is Masai Ujiri? This is a question that quite a few NBA executives, beat writers and myself have been asking for the 4-6 weeks. It is also the question I have been fielding questions on for the past 2-3 months. The problem is that I have not been able to answer the question up until now.
The short answer is he is the recently announced Executive Vice President Basketball Operations for the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association. He is supposed to be savior for the NBA club that is considered to be in disarray by many experts.
Long answer is well …….. quite a bit longer
Up until a few months ago, though, he was a little know executive with the Toronto Raptors, but once his name was mentioned in association with the Nuggets job a lot of articles have been written about Masai Ujiri his rise from a kid born in Zazzau in Northern Nigeria to the General manager of the NBA Nuggets. It is an interesting story but, the thing that caught my attention is that the 39 year old Masai Ujiri says he played his college ball at Montana State University after attending Bismarck State Junior College.
I have been following Montana State basketball religiously since 1980, and I have a good memory for names, but I could not remember him ever playing for the Bobcats. It started to bug, and I am getting a little long in the tooth, and the memory sometimes is not what it used to so I decided to contact a few folks to see if they remembered Masai Ujiri. I contacted Bill Lamberty at the longtime SID at Montana State, I also have a friend who covered the Bobcats during the period of time, as well as a few other people. No one I contacted, could ever remember a Masai Ujiri playing for the Bobcats.
Lamberty was curious enough that he told me he contact others involved with program in the 80’s and 90’s and he was quite sure that Masai Ujiri did not play for the Bobcats.
The other thought I had, was that possibly Masai Ujiri had changed his name since playing for the Bobcats. It happens. Could this really be Jeff Epperly or Justin Brown? So I ran that up the flag pole and that was promptly shot down – imagine that.
Well he had to have played for “A” Montana State because it was on his resume and resumes don’t lie. So being bugged further I checked with a few sources about the possibility that he actually played for Montana State – Billings or Montana State – Northern. One of my friends actually had access to a complete list of players who had played for MSU-Billings since about 1980 and he could not find him. Nobody could! I was assured he did not play for Montana State-Bozeman, Billings or Northern.
Now I was really bugged! I started poking a few National and Denver area media outlets this week, as they started to write again about Masai Ujiri playing for Montana State. Finally Denver Post and ESPN personality Woody Paige got to the bottom of this. I would like to think I had something to do with it but that would just be blatant ego boosting.
So for those who have asked, here is the story Masai Ujiri never played or attended Montana State. He did attend Montana State -Billings (although I think it was Eastern Montana back then) but he never played for the Yellowjackets. As a matter of fact he only attended MSU-Billings for a single semester before he quit and decided to head over to Europe in pursuit of basketball opportunities.
I hope that clarifies it all for everyone.
Here is a link to Woody Paige’s article that answers the question, who is Masai Ujiri. It also features a couple mentions of our own Bill Lamberty.