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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Udoka Azubuike never has seen a dunk he does not like

Freshman center Udoka Azubuike delivers a powerful dunk during a KU camp scrimmage on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Freshman center Udoka Azubuike delivers a powerful dunk during a KU camp scrimmage on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

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He guessed he was about 13 at the time, roughly 6-foot-8 inches tall, towering above the rest of his friends who had gone with him to an outdoor hoop in Lagos, Nigeria.

After so, so many tries, Udoka Azubuike finally dunked a basketball on a 10-foot hoop.

“I tried 15 times and kept missing,” Azubuike said. “One day, I finally went up and I made it. That was pretty much the happiest day ever for me, that very day, because I was like, ‘Wow, I can dunk!’ I was excited. The first time for me was really exciting.”

It was love at first flush. It hasn’t grown old. He doesn’t think it ever will.

Don’t look for Azubuike to say what Markieff Morris once said when asked why he was dunking more often as a sophomore than as a freshman. He said that he had refrained from dunking to conserve energy.

Azubuike dunks to spread energy to teammates, coaches and eventually to spectators in Allen Fieldhouse, where he didn’t get a chance to play in the Late Night scrimmage because of a groin injury.

“My game is like the saying goes: ‘I don’t see no dunk that I don’t like.’ Once I see the rim, I don’t care who’s over there, I’m going to try to dunk,” Azubuike said. “I’m going to try to go up on you and shatter the rim. That’s my game.”

He said that he was 13 when he moved from Nigeria and into a home with a host family in Florida. He was 12 when he gave up soccer to concentrate on basketball.

“I was really good at soccer,” said the center, whose name is pronounced you-DOE-kuh az-uh-BOO-kee. “Because of my height, people told me that I needed to start playing basketball, and I picked it up from there.”

Hakeem Olajuwon and Joel Embiid, both blessed with quicker feet than Azubuike, no slow-poke, also played soccer before making basketball their sport.

“Some stuff we do in soccer is applicable in basketball,” Azubuike said. “Pretty much the footwork in soccer you can apply to basketball, like the spin move. If you see some NBA players like Steve Nash, they started playing soccer before they played basketball and it helped them a lot. It helps footwork and balance.”

Azubuike said he considers himself a 7-footer, has shed 25 pounds and weighs 275. The extent to which he can keep up with KU’s fast pace in transition will play a big part in determining his playing time.

“He’s coming along really well,” classmate Josh Jackson said. “He’s really hard to guard, huge guy, probably the biggest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Azubuike said he has come a long way in building stamina. It’s what coaches and teammates identify as his greatest need for improvement.

“I think the biggest thing for him is just to get in shape so he can get up and down the court a little better,” Jackson said. “He gets kind of lazy when he gets tired, a little bit, but he’s going to be really good for us this year. He’s doing a lot better with that (running in transition).”

Starting center Landen Lucas is impressed with how well Azubuike listens to suggestions.

“Some guys think they know it all. He’s definitely not one of them,” Lucas said. “His ceiling is unbelievably high. For his age and for his athletic ability and size, if he really figures out how to play the game ... He really doesn’t know a ton right now and he’s already good. If he figures that out, he’ll be spectacular.”

Azubuike identified his birth date as Sept. 17, 1999. That means he’ll have two years at Kansas to develop his game because of age restrictions on draft eligibility. To those who have questioned whether he is older than he says, Azubuike no longer feels the need to defend himself.

“At first, during high school, yes, people keep saying that, I get (mad) and stuff,” he said. “As time goes on, I know people are going to say what they’re going to say, so I just kind of overlook it and don’t say anything about it. I don’t have nothing to prove to no one.”

KU’s biggest player has a lot going for him. He’s massive, bright and serious about working on his game.

“My best is yet to come,” Azubuike said. “I’m going to keep improving, keep getting better.”

He has plenty to learn, but knowing that a dunk is always a smart shot isn’t a lesson he needs to be taught. That’s a nice place for any young center to start.

Comments

Kent Richardson 9 months ago

A king sized center is an exciting prospect to anticipate. If he is agile enough to guard the rim it will be the first since Embiid. Not that Lucas is a slouch either. Offensive rebounds and bodies flying. Put that skinny ass Lattin from OU in the cheap seats.

Joe Ross 9 months ago

"...in the cheap seats." LOL!!!!!!!!!!!

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Andy Tweedy 9 months ago

Please tell me he has a nickname!

Andy Tweedy 9 months ago

I've never really started any kind of movement before, that's a lot of pressure!

Kent Richardson 9 months ago

The first time is the hardest i think.

9 months ago

I suggest his nickname be Udoka "iDUNKa" Azubuike.

Tom Keegan 9 months ago

Frederick, That's not bad at all. I've been doing this for 35 years and only came up with two nicknames that made it to Sports Illustrated. They didn't say who made up the nicknames, but that's fine. It was still flattering to see them in SI. When I covered UC Irvine in the '80s, I nicknamed them the Troll Patrol because they had three sub-6-footers in starting lineup. When writing for the New York Post, I nicknamed Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker, "The Ku Klux Kloser." Udoka "iDUNKA" is worthy of SI.

Suzi Marshall 9 months ago

After years of soft play at the rim, it will be a very welcome sight to see a 'Hawk attacking the basket!! iDUNK-a works for me.

Dale Stringer 9 months ago

Good nickname, I like it, but I think it's too hard to scream at the games. How about "DOE-BOO"?

Tom Keegan 9 months ago

When I was working at the Orange County (Calif.) Register, I did a small colleges notebook for a year or two. The SID at Azusa Pacific told me about a running back who was really big and really fast and pitched me on coming out to do a story. I took the bait and spent about a half hour talking to Christian Okoye, one of the nicest guys I've ever interviewed.

Dan Burns 9 months ago

I work for his HS as a consultant and was talking to his principal last year, she said everyone calls him "BOO-KEE". I guess we'll see if that continues or he goes with one of these humorous nicknames.

Tim Orel 9 months ago

Any other insights on him will be welcome.

Mike Greer 9 months ago

I read in another article where Coach referred to him as Dok, or Dook, don't recall how many Os. Don't know it that's official or if it will stick, but it's short and easy.

Laird Dennis 9 months ago

Yeah, I've heard Coach call him DOOK several times.....

9 months ago

I'm not worried about his stamina. He is young and that might be a good thing, keeping him around with Hudy for a few years. Landen is pretty solid to go most of a game so putting Azu in for key defense moments might be nice. He seems like the board belongs to him.

Tom Keegan 9 months ago

The stamina matters even if is PT is limited because you have to be able to run so fast to keep up in both directions playing for such a fast team. It only takes a couple of times up and down the court to get gassed if you're not in top shape. He's working hard and getting better at it. Knowing you have him and Lucas dividing 40 minutes is a luxury not many teams have. Indiana's sophomore center Thomas Bryant is good and it should be interesting to see Lucas, and Azubuike in spurts, defend him.

Suzi Marshall 9 months ago

I still seriously doubt Azubuike is in good enough shape to play significant minutes, i.e. more than 10 mpg. I suspect we'll see Bragg, assuming he's not in foul trouble, at the post for a super quick/fast lineup.

Noah Oone 9 months ago

Let's wait until the games start to discuss his conditioning. Considering that none of us have seen him play a game at KU, it is hard to say what kind of shape he is in.

Suzi Marshall 9 months ago

I've seen him play in those HS all star game. Plus, he could only go a couple of days in boot camp.

Noah Oone 9 months ago

I'm quite sure the staff has worked a lot on his conditioning - that's why he has lost weight. He didn't play at Late night and missed a day or two of boot camp because of his slight groin injury.

Suzi Marshall 9 months ago

You got that backward. He only did two days of boot camp.

Tim Orel 9 months ago

The other issue with being gassed is the fouls made from being not as skilled when tired. The refs won't give a freshman, especially a young freshman, the benefit of the doubt as to whether a foul was committed. Add to that iDunka's size and how that will make any foul rather obvious (the loud crack, the player flying through the air, the gasp of the crowd, etc) and I expect iDunka will have problems with his fouls per minute stat.

Tom Keegan 9 months ago

He'll definitely commit a lot of fouls, but many of them will leave bruises, which isn't such a bad thing. As a backup, foul trouble won't be as big a problem.

Joseph Bullock 9 months ago

Don't forget about Coleby and Lightfoot, for additional depth, so stamina and foul trouble, should not be much of a problem! And Bragg, with the muscle and weight he added, could also play the '5', in spurts!

Brett McCabe 9 months ago

Completely irrelevant to the article (sorry Tom)....

I listened to about 5 minutes of Kietzman yesterday (which is about all I can stand each week) and he had Jack Harry on for KK's weekly ambush session. Yes the same Jack Harry that predicted us to take 5th in the conference in TT's senior year.

Anywho, these two goofs stumbled their way onto something interesting, and important. KK was doing his monthly bashing on Mizzou's departure to the SEC and the struggles of the football program. A key point was Missouri's struggle to refocus it's recruiting away from Texas and into SEC country, and their failure to succeed, early, in those efforts.

One major struggle for KU football has been our failure to declare a consistent recruiting ground, and a scheduling philosophy to match. It seems that we are finally focused on recruiting Texas, but then we schedule games with Illinois and Ohio instead of, say, Tulane, Texas State, etc. (The lack of focus in the football offices is astounding).

As much as I hate to say it, KU needs to stay in a conference that includes Texas or major Texas schools. Missouri switched it's focus, and after winning two divisional titles with Big 12 recruits, is now floundering. Those who say we should head to the Big Ten need to recognize that we would then have to enter all new recruiting areas with really nothing to offer.

I bet that, in his heart of hearts, Gary Pinkle wanted no part of the SEC - at least as head coach of Missouri. And not because he was afraid of Bama, but because he knew that he'd be throwing away years of work in building a recruiting foundation in Texas.

For my part, I've been all over the place on conference realignment, including my own preference that we move to the Big Ten. Now, I think the smart bet is simply to ride this thing out until it ends.

Jay Scott 9 months ago

Nicely said. By the time "this thing ends" football may already be declining in relevance.

Michael Lorraine 9 months ago

Not a criticism, just an observation Jay but I don’t know of anyone with a more fatalistic view of football than you. I am routinely criticized among my circle of friends for suggesting that football might be in trouble yet you seem to believe its demise is a foregone conclusion. When the conference leaders got together and decided against adding members do you think the future of football is something they considered? Given that realignment is centered around football I have to think they were at least thinking about it.

Suzi Marshall 9 months ago

Brett, the above is what drives me crazy about your post. How can you be so clear thinking, like the above post, and still come up with some of your other things....? Sometimes I think your just teasing or wanting to have some fun with those 'other things.'

Although I'd love to see us in the B1G, I agree hanging with UT is critical. I've heard from several sources, as I am sure you have, that the 'dream' combo to the B1G is UT and KU. Personally, I'd love to see UT and OU work through any differences they may in-order to keep the league going. So long as we have UT & OU, we will have a Power 5 conference and KU would never ever leave that combo. Besides the Texas recruiting needs, there is far too much emotional attachment between Kansas-Oklahoma (Ted Owens, Bill Self, etc) for any of us to break with Oklahoma.

Michael Lorraine 9 months ago

Good point Brett. Reassignment to another conference might secure our financial well being but at what cost to our competitiveness.

Brian Mellor 9 months ago

On the subject of centers, how about a mention of Joel Embiid finally getting onto the floor for the first time and scoring 20 with 7 rebounds and some blocks?

Dillon Davis 9 months ago

Idk if I'm the only one here, but Center depth is the one thing that really worries me about this team. If Lucas gets in foul trouble or God forbid gets hurt, you really comfortable with having 17 year old Udoka subbing in? I'm sure he'll get a couple boards and maybe a big put-back dunk or something but how can you expect that he is ready for the level of competition he is going to face? Maybe in the second half of the year, he can be that guy. And certainly by next year he should be a monster. But this year? Idk...And Coleby sounds like he'll play minimal minutes right now. He's still not healthy and even if he was, his stats at Miss St. or Ole Miss were really unimpressive. Lightfoot is a twig. I'm sure he'll be a great player for KU, but not this year, and certainly not at the 5 spot.

Michael Bennett 9 months ago

The thing that prevents that from being a concern is the flexibility on this roster for guys to move up a position. So you have Lucas starting at the 5, Udoka backing him up, then Coleby (if he's healthy). Then if you still have a shortage with all those guys out (unlikely), move 6'11" Bragg up to the 5, with Lightfoot, Jackson, or even Svi at the 4 for spurts. Honestly I believe that's probably in the top 5 this year for college frontcourt depth. And I think Lightfoot's more capable than fans realize. He's not huge, but he looks to have 25+ pounds on Kevin Young, for all the comparisons between the two. He'll probably play sparingly, but I think he's still a viable option as a backup 4.

Kent Richardson 9 months ago

Lightfoot as a sleeper is a luxury many many teams would love to have.

Harlan Hobbs 9 months ago

Very good analysis on conference realignment, Brett. You are persuasive in your reasoning.

Good article, Tom. Also, I like the various nickname suggestions, but I agree that "iDUNKa" is the best, assuming that he becomes a "dunk machine."

Mallory Briggans 9 months ago

Hey Brian.....great shoutout for Jojo .......he looked pretty good ....and he only played 22 minutes.......just think ....he would be a senior this year....you think coach self had that little wry smile when he saw Jojos stat line....im sure he did.........

Ryan Zimmerman 9 months ago

I can't wait to see this kid play. I know Josh is the headliner, but I'm so intrigued by this kid's raw talent and size and strength

Dirk Medema 9 months ago

If this was 20 years ago in the NBA the depth at the 5 might be a concern but that is not where we are playing. College is so much more guard and perimeter oriented. Even Coach Self doesn't refer to 5's. They're front or back court or whatever terminology is used. Remember 2012, when we couldn't play a great C much in many games because Withey or Robinson had to sit in order to get someone on the court who was able to play away from the basket. We have more than enough front court depth.

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