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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Azubuike’s presence in KU’s starting lineup plenty exciting but not necessarily permanent

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) rejects on of his 3 blocked shots against UNC Asheville forward Alec Wnuk (2) in the Jayhawks 95-57 win against UNC Asheville Friday night, Nov. 25, in Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) rejects on of his 3 blocked shots against UNC Asheville forward Alec Wnuk (2) in the Jayhawks 95-57 win against UNC Asheville Friday night, Nov. 25, in Allen Fieldhouse.

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Bill Self’s decision to start freshman center Udoka Azubuike and sophomore wing Lagerald Vick in place of struggling starters Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg Jr., brought some buzz to Friday’s 95-57 Kansas victory over UNC Asheville at Allen Fieldhouse.

But after the win Self cautioned against reading too much into the move.

“I think we’ll be a team that’s unlike most of the teams we’ve had,” Self revealed. “I think we’ll start based on scouting report a lot of times. And we haven’t ever done that. If a team plays small, we may go small. If a team plays two bigs, we may go two bigs.”

If it’s big Self’s looking for, they don’t make ’em much bigger than Azubuike, a 7-foot, 280-pound mountain of a man from Delta, Nigeria, who tallied 17 points and three blocks during his first career start on Friday night.

The basketball definition of a work in progress, Azubuike uses his size both on offense and defense, dunking anything and everything he can get his hands on and making opponents think twice about entering the paint. Self’s teams always have been at their best defensively when they’ve had a player like that lurking in the lane, and the 14-year KU coach said Azubuike could be that player for this team, whether he continues to start or not.

“Yeah, yeah, he can,” Self said. “He’s got a better chance than anybody else on our team, for sure. He and Josh (Jackson), I think, are our two best shot blockers.... ’Dok can actually block or alter (shots) and he does that better than anybody else. So it is nice to have somebody back there that can do that.”

While so much of what Azubuike is doing today is based off of raw size and skills, Self again emphasized that what Azubuike can offer in the future differs vastly from what he’s capable of doing today. And Self made no secret of the fact that he’s willing to let the young man’s game develop slowly while taking whatever he can get this season.

Azubuike is averaging just 12.2 minutes per outing and has played single-digit minutes just as often as he has been given double-digit minutes during the Jayhawks' 5-1 start to the season.

“He’s gonna continue to get better and better,” Self said. “But I think if he can become a better low-post defender, a better rim protector and a better defensive rebounder, that would be what I’d be happy with. Those are the things that the team needs more than anything else.”

One of the ways Azubuike plans to progress is by watching the man he replaced in the lineup on Friday night. Regardless of how the minutes are divvied up from this point on — and Self actually was encouraged by the way Lucas and Bragg handled and responded to Friday’s decision — both Azubuike and Lucas figure to play key roles for the Jayhawks whether on or off the floor.

“We didn’t really talk about it that much,” Azubuike said. “But Landen, he’s been a great teammate to me. He doesn’t talk a lot but, he’s like a role model. Just looking at him, the way he does things, the way he carries himself in practice, I’m just following in his footsteps because he’s been here for so long and he knows everything so I’m just looking up to him.”

Self said Friday that Azubuike and Vick again would join Jackson, Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason III in the starting lineup on Tuesday against Long Beach State, but he made sure to stress that it’s not a move that he feels forced to stick with for the remainder of the season.

“Like I told them, this doesn’t have to be permanent,” Self began. “But if ’Dok and Lagerald play like that, I mean, that’s the best production we’ve got all year long from those two spots. So it could be permanent, but I don’t suspect it will be.”

Comments

Jerry Walker 6 months ago

"they don’t make ’em much bigger than Azubuike, a 7-foot, 280-pound mountain of a man" --Matt Tait

On the broadcast Fraschilla claimed to be in the know and said his weight was down to 262. The eye test says that Fraschilla is closer to correct than your report.

Even at 262 your statement is still correct. You're around the team all the time...what's the real deal? Dok's weight and conditioning is just as big a factor in his development as improving his basketball skills..

Gerry Butler 6 months ago

very true Jerry. I've heard and read so many things on Azubuike, I've heard 7ft 280-285, I've heard 6'10 260-265 - - so which is it? I mean the kids a beast, and when he figures it all out -- - - - - look out I still think we have a shot of him being here for 3 years hopefully

Barry Weiss 6 months ago

I can see Dok becoming the regular starter with Landon coming off the bench for substantial minutes. Bragg and Vick are probably going to be very equal and fit into Coach's philosophy of starting whichever one matches up best with the opponent.

Steve Zimmerman 5 months, 4 weeks ago

It'll be crazy to not start Udoka from this point on. But, HCBS has surprised us before, so I don't get my hope up on this one. Lowering my expectation..

Robert Brock 6 months ago

When the Hawks hit the conference schedule, Azubuike will basically disappear. He is just too unskilled to play many minutes against good-quality competition. He is a very exciting next-year kind of player.

Jerry Walker 6 months ago

Probably so. It'll be his ability to defend without fouling that will dictate his minutes. Right now he can dominate against undersized mid-major teams but experienced Big12 front court players will school him.

Noah Oone 6 months ago

I sure hope he doesn't disappear. That is why we have non con games so that less experienced players can get that experience. Who do want going against legit bigs like Isaac Haas, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, or Kentucky's footers - Landon or a more polished Udoka? Udoka affects the game in more ways than Landon without experience and already has a better b2b game. Need to play Udoka as much as possible.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

You must be thinking of years past. This years BIG 12 is not nearly as good as those of the past few years. Azubuike is more than good enough to hold his own this year.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

Who has the more complete basketball game - Lucas or Azubuike? It has to be Lucas but who has the ability to dominate at his position. Last year Self asked the rest of the team who they felt was a better fit at the 5. Not sure that's the way to run a team but so far the results are leaning towards Azibuike.

Harlan Hobbs 6 months ago

Robert, I don't really know how you can come to that conclusion, but I guess we will see. I can see Udoka being even more important during the conference season to keep us from being a totally perimeter shooting team.

It's pretty clear that Landen's success last year was due in large part to having Perry Ellis in the lineup. I'm always pulling for Landen because of his great character and team spirit, but unless someone comes forth (perhaps Carlton) to help him inside, he is not particularly an offensive threat.

Udoka's presence just gives KU more alternatives in my opinion. The question will be his stamina, as others have said.

Barry Weiss 6 months ago

I agree Harlan, Baylor has a 7 footer than is going to require a strong inside presence. Having a rim protector really changes the way a team attacks us. Even in prior games where Dok did not score much because of foul trouble, he made it difficult for opponents in the paint. So that is on the defensive end. On offense, we saw what can be done against smaller teams. As that game went on, you could see him looking to kick it back out to the wings if there was no shot. I think this kid is a quick learner and will only get better as his minutes and games increase. Landon will improve too. I think the injury is still bothering him. Carlton is more just confidence I think and that will also improve. I like what I see out of this team!

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

We are certainly on the same page. Go through the teams in the BIG 12 and there is certainly a drop in talent on the majority of this year's teams. If Bragg does start to play to expectations, I don't see either player gaining an advantage. More options should benefit everyone.

Scott Lippoldt 6 months ago

My son and I were at the game, and OMG was Udoka fun to watch. As much as we love and respect Landon, Udoka brings so much more to the table. Yes, he is raw, but he is developing at a fast pace. We especially were impressed with the numerous times that Udoka did NOT foul, when just a couple weeks ago, he definitely would have. Udoka also showed that he is improving with his footwork and with his decision making. Now, if he can just continue to get in better shape,..

I hope that he plays a solid 10-15+ minutes a game, but if he "disappears" like the poster above suggests, I think we are in real trouble. Landon is solid and experienced, but he just does not have the presence in the middle that Udoka has. For that matter, Coleby probably deserves some minutes as well.

BTW: it had been 28 years since I had been in Allen Fieldhouse, and it was the first time for our 20-year-old son. We had seats five rows behind the KU bench. Definite bucket list check-off for Cam. It was AWESOME!

Humpy Helsel 6 months ago

Wow! Twenty-eight years. The school and the architects have done an amazing job of updating and improving the old building while maintaining the charm and everything else that makes the Fieldhouse so very special. I know what the Fieldhouse looked like 28 years ago, and it is nothing like it is now. Must have been a big dose of culture shock. Television doesn't begin to do Allen justice much the same way watching a Red Sox game in Boston on TV is nothing like experiencing Fenway live and in technicolor.

Marius Rowlanski 6 months ago

Haven't been since '82. Hopefully that streak will end someday soon.

Tony Bandle 6 months ago

You guys should have seen it 50 years ago!!! Dirt track with a track team practicing, raised demountable court, walk in the door on game day and grab a front row seat. Things have changed a bit!!!!!

Harlan Hobbs 6 months ago

I was there 50 years ago, Tony, and believe me, you have a marvelous memory.

Sounds like most of us are on the same page. I agree that Carlton's confidence is a little lacking right now, but I think that will change. With the enthusiasm and infectious smile that he almost always exhibits, he will get there. Am thrilled to have him and all of the rest of the team and coaches at KU.

Bob Bailey 6 months ago

Did you watch KU BB from the balcony of the older version of the playhouse. Mark me for 3 yrs. (that's how long it took me to graduate) The players were famous, both in BB and FB. The honcho was Evans, one of my family records dating back to 1776. Ever wonder who your relatives are? With that kind of record, there could be millions! One recent QB;s grandmother was a Bailey.

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