Kansas forward Billy Preston, equipped with a well-developed physique for a freshman at 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, readily acknowledges that his perimeter game is more developed at both ends than his post play.
He also believes the crash course he takes in practice will benefit his paint play.
Preston said that when teamed with Dedric Lawson and playing against Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot in practice, he guards the 7-foot, 280-pound Azubuike.
“He’s really like a Man-imal,” Preston said. “He’s just so big. I hate guarding him in practice. I’ll have to be guarding Udoka with his arm right in my chest and there’s nothing I can do about it because he’s just so big.”
Keeping him from the basket is a tough task.
On this episode of the KU Sports Hour, hosted by KU basketball beat writer Matt Tait, the KUsports.com staff talks about the resurgence of the Border War, dubbed the "Showdown for Relief." Topics include: should this game be happening? (4:30-15:10), how seriously will everyone take it? (15:10-29:15), Border War memories ...
“That size or that strength or just that mentality to dunk everything, and that’s Dok,” Preston said. “I think the thing about Dok, once he gets into a hundred percent shape, like a hundred percent, he’s in great shape now, we just got done with boot camp, but once he gets to that point where it’s just like relentless, he’s going to be a dog. He’s going to be a dog and he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with and he’ll have a big impact on our season.”
All of the factors Preston mentioned make Azubuike a terrific basketball prospect. Watching how those translate against quality competition, which KU didn’t face in Italy, in a structured game is one of the many intriguing subplots of Sunday’s exhibition versus Missouri, at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo.
Azubuike played just 11 games before being lost for the season with a wrist injury. Graduated Landen Lucas isn’t around to share the load, which means Preston isn’t KU’s only frontcourt player undergoing a crash course.
“Udoka had a free pass last year in the games he played,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “If he played well, great. If he didn’t play well, it wasn’t the end of the earth. Now there’s pressure on him to play well.”
Pressure on him to get into the best condition of his life. Pressure on him to become more decisive with the ball in the post. Pressure on him to stay out of foul trouble.
If he can do all of that, opposing defenses will have a pick-your-poison dilemma on their hands, especially when the big man is surrounded by four shooters.
“Well, he's probably a better scorer than he is passer right now and if you've watched him you probably know that, but he's really improved in that area,” Self said. “At least last year he was a better scorer than passer, and he wasn't a prolific scorer, but he's become a better passer and certainly a better scorer, and the thing about it is, if you just look at it in theory, if you have Lagerald (Vick), Svi (Mykhailiuk), Malik (Newman) and Devonte' (Graham) around him, there's not going to be a lot of help that's going to be offered because those guys can all knock it down, so you would hope they'd isolate him on the post, which would make him look like a much better scorer than if teams can run and double him.”
If Udoka develops rapidly, the offensive ceiling for this team is frighteningly high, particularly if he can greatly improve from the free-throw line. More than anyone in the rotation, Azubuike shapes up as an unknown, a most-compelling "if."
— BORDER WAR QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Border Wars past and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.
• KU-MIZZOU TRIVIA: How much do you know about the history of KU's biggest rivalry? Take this quiz to find out and enter to win a $25 Visa gift card.