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Friday, October 20, 2017

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Udoka Azubuike raises ceiling for Kansas basketball

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) delivers on a dunk against Long Beach State during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) delivers on a dunk against Long Beach State during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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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.

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“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."

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Comments

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 1 month ago

I predict we will see higher margin this season, and possibly higher scoring than previous seasons. It'll be tougher for teams to score inside, and we'll see more fastbreaks, too. I expect rebound stats will go up significantly, too. It'll be hard not to imagine our boys in a final four or even championship game this time..as long as Dok stays healthy till the end. It's about time, and this season is our time!! Rock Chalk!!!!

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