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Saturday, December 23, 2017

KU’s Azubuike on fire as he enters uncharted territory

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' direction after an Oakland turnover during the first half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' direction after an Oakland turnover during the first half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Although Kansas basketball coach Bill Self stopped short of giving sophomore center Udoka Azubuike the full endorsement of having figured it out — “clicking may be too strong,” Self said this week — there's no denying that the past 14 days marked a notable stretch for Azubuike's overall development.

Three straight games in double figures, two as the 14th-ranked Jayhawks' leading scorer, two double-doubles and all of it delivered with the kind of mindset and approach that this team needs from its biggest player and potentially most dominant force.

“When Dok's going like that it makes it a lot easier for everybody because the defense has to pay attention to him or you got to send two guys, which allows us to get open shots or (face) bad closeouts and allows us to get into the paint,” senior point guard Devonte' Graham said. “When he's going like that, it's great for us.”

Azubuike's emergence from lone big man to formidable force has not been an accident. He now has been through two weeks of having his coach emphasize on an almost daily basis how massive and important his role could be for this year's Jayhawks. And he has responded to the extra attention with extra effort on the court.

In victories over Nebraska, Omaha and Stanford, Azubuike made 30 of 39 shots while averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game.

“He just wants him to be aggressive,” Graham said. “Coach is Udoka's biggest fan and he just wants him to be good. When he's aggressive, it just makes it easier for everybody and he could score at will if he wanted to.”

Perhaps most importantly, and yet somewhat overlooked during this recent stretch, was the fact that the Jayhawks' most recent victory came in their 12th game of the season.

Azubuike has started each one of them and is averaging 25 minutes per game for the season.

That's double what he experienced in 11 games as a true freshman — in both total minutes (300 vs. 142) and minutes per game (25 to 12.9) — and Azubuike's numbers are up across the boards, as well.

He enters Big 12 play — 8 p.m. next Friday at Texas — averaging 15.5 points and eight rebounds per game, up from last year's totals of 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds, and also already has exceeded his assist and block totals in 11 games a year ago.

Self said throughout the offseason that missing 25 games during his freshman season because of a wrist injury hurt Azubuike's development as much or more than just about any player he could imagine, given the 7-foot Nigerian's young age and recent introduction to the game.

So, from this point on, every game Azubuike plays will be a step into uncharted territory for KU's big fella. First Big 12 game. First postseason game. First time experiencing the grind of January, February and, of course, March. All of it lies ahead for Azubuike, who, as shown in his most recent outings, appears to be ready.

“He still talks about it during practice,” said Azubuike of Self's reminders to be aggressive and look to dominate. “Right before the (Stanford) game, he emphasized it.”

If Azubuike continues to perform like he has during the past three games, Self's may be able to deviate from the routine a little bit, as he becomes more comfortable with Azubuike's understanding of his role.

“I haven't been Grinchy in the last 36 hours,” said Self after KU's rout of Omaha last Monday, referencing his statement from two days earlier about not being on Azubuike's Christmas card list. “But I could probably go back real easily.”

Azubuike's objective is for Self to put that Grinch persona away for good after the holidays. And it's more clear than ever that he now understands how to make that happen.

“You know, winning's always fun,” Azubuike said after the Stanford victory. “When you're playing good, it's always fun, seeing my teammates over there giving me encouragement, it's fun.”

Comments

Tony Bandle 6 months ago

A Christmas List for Dok:

1] Work hard to avoid those silly fouls away from the ball. If the driver gets by you, let him go and hope you get back side help.

2] Work on a 10-0" jump shot; If you can hit that, you'll be able to wheel around defenders for even more dunk shots.

3] Work on your foul shooting. Take your time at the line and put a little more arch on your shot

4] Now that you've got, hopefully, three big bodies to help you instead of one, let them do some of the dirty work.

5] Did I mention do everything possible to improve your foul shooting? Your going to get :Hack-A-Shaqqed" a lot. You'll need to make our opponents pay for it.

6] Stay another year. [This one is actually on my Xmas List!!]

Marius Rowlanski 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Dok's form at the FT line isn't terrible. With practice (LOTS) and work on his release, he could get his numbers at the line into the low 60's this year.

Maybe a little over-optimistic but Friday's news has kept up the optimism.

Humpy Helsel 6 months ago

The next game will tell us a lot about our big man as he squares off against a great freshman big man at Texas. Man I'd love to watch practice next week with our newest addition being added to the mix. Silvio is getting ready to experience the difference between recruiting Coach Self and on the court coaching Coach Self. You have to think the older players get a kick out of watching all of that happen to the "new guys." This first Big 12 game is huge. We win and we send a message to the rest of the league. We lose the first one, and everybody smells blood. If I'm playing against Kansas, I work on my zone defense because it seems this year's bunch really struggles against zone. I think I'd mix some in just to slow us down and get us thinking. This bunch doesn't do well when they have to think. At least not yet.

Dirk Medema 6 months ago

Except for the last zone against Stanford?

It would be nice if teams continued to show us some zone, so that busting it remains fresh.

Kent Richardson 6 months ago

Shaka will want this one bad. His teams have under achieved so far. I have watched Texas twice this year and the big man is really still a project (with a 7'9" wing span), who I think is a step or two behind Udoka in development. Their other big man, power forward, Ostekowski is no project and savvy good.

Marius Rowlanski 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Good points. Hopefully, we will be able to get Dok and Silvio playing Self's hi/lo offense and bust the zone D as we've done in the past. If Preston is on the court, I have more confidence just because of the time together already. I still think Preston has the highest upside on a team where everybody has continued to show more.

Andy Godwin 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Great to see his progress. Udoka’s aggressiveness in part has been limited by the lack of a true backup center. Once he would get his first foul, sometimes within seconds or minutes of a game, he became overly cautious. I think Self has reinforced that he must be aggressive at all times and play more freely and stop thinking about how many fouls he has. Self will manage his time and even though Mitch is a foul machine, neither he or a Udoka fouled out against a bigger Stanford front line. A ready to go Preston (if that ever happens), would help Udoka the most.

Barry Weiss 5 months, 4 weeks ago

I recall Dok making noticeable improvement each game he played last year. Indeed he broke into the starting line-up ahead of Landon. Then the injury. He seems to be advancing again this year. A real double double threat every night.

Robert Brock 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Azubuike may be able to handle Mohamed Bamba. Who guards Osetkowski? That kid may put up forty points on us.

Kent Richardson 5 months, 3 weeks ago

If we can get Osetkowski to keep shooting three and missing yippie. Their whole team is shooting bricks but Shaka says that's okay it will come around.

Jeff Kilgore 5 months, 4 weeks ago

For me, it’s exciting that our team’s outcome is not as sure as it has been in the past. Udoka faces a great challenge, but then, so does Bamba. This year’s league race isn’t wide open, but there are legit contenders. Nice to know that the title still goes through Lawrence.

Harlan Hobbs 5 months, 4 weeks ago

Osetkowski won't get 40 against KU any more than Reed Travis got 45 for Stanford.

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