Sunday, April 1, 2018

Notebook: Azubuike’s mom attends first game; KU players undecided on NBA futures

Florence Azuonuwu, mother of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike gets a welcoming hug from a KU fan prior to tipoff on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Florence Azuonuwu, mother of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike gets a welcoming hug from a KU fan prior to tipoff on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.


San Antonio — Escorted by her son's host family, with whom he lived in Jacksonville, Fla., after leaving Nigeria at age 13, Florence Azuonuwu, the mother of Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, walked over to Scott “Scooter” Ward about 15 minutes before tipoff of Saturday's Final Four clash with Villanova and planted a big hug on him.

Ward, KU's associate athletics director for student-athlete development, who is beloved by any KU athlete who has come in contact with him, said the moment was a bit overwhelming and one he won't soon forget.

“I told her it's great that she's here, I told her I loved her and she said, 'Oh, we love you,'” Ward recalled before tipoff of KU's 95-79, season-ending loss. “It's very, very cool that we were able to make that happen. It's so cool that the NCAA realized that that's something that would be good for a lot of people.”

Ward, who has worked closely with the still-18-year-old Azubuike since he arrived on campus younger than most college freshman, said Azuonuwu spoke wonderful English.

Her son was the first Jayhawk introduced to the Alamodome crowd, and, when he was, Azuonuwu threw her arms in the air and waved them from side to side with a huge smile on her face.

“It was great, man,” said a disappointed Azubuike after the game.

Added KU coach Bill Self: “She didn't get in (Friday) night until midnight. There was a brief exchange, certainly, with us and everything. She was exhausted. So I haven't talked to her again. But, you know, sports in so many ways, it's just amazing to me how so many good things can come out of competition. And who would have thought that winning and having a chance to play at the highest level would allow a mother and her son to reconnect after six years? That was a proud moment for all of us and a really special moment for those two.”

After the game, Azubuike was uncertain about his mother's immediate plans but said he hoped she would be able to stay in Jacksonville for another week or so and that he would be able to go down there to spend some time with her.

Uncertain futures?

While Saturday's loss marked the final game in the careers of KU seniors Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Clay Young, it also may have marked the end for a few underclassmen.

Self said after the game that he believed KU's roster “will be totally different next year, I would think, because there's a lot of unknowns out there,” and those unknowns figure to include Azubuike, Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick, who all could entertain the idea of leaving Kansas early to pursue their professional careers.

If that is in the future for any of the three, they were not talking about it on Saturday night.

“Right now, I haven't really thought about anything,” Newman said. “I just want to get back with my teammates, make sure that they're good. Later on, in a week or sometime down the line, I'll sit down with Coach Self and my family and have that discussion.”

Added Vick: “I haven't even thought about it yet.”

Azubuike offered similar thoughts while referencing his “decision.”

“I'm not going to say nothing right now,” he said. “I'm just going to make my decision later on what I'm going to do. But right now I'm not going to say anything.”

Preston in attendance

Former KU player Billy Preston, whose freshman season never got off the ground and ended in January without Preston having played a single official game, was in attendance at the Final Four this week, seated behind the KU bench during Saturday's loss.

Preston, who shared his love of KU during a pregame video directed at the KU fans who supported him during his tough times, said he was incredibly proud of his former teammates and wanted to be in San Antonio to support them.

“I'm just excited to be here to support them and them getting this far just shows how great Coach Self is that they were able to get here and do it,” Preston said. “They're a bunch of fighters and a bunch of dogs and we believed in ourselves the whole time.”

KU blues

As the lower seeded team on Saturday — Villanova was the No. 2 overall seed and Kansas No. 3 — the Jayhawks were in the visiting team on the scoreboard and, therefore, wore their blue uniforms for the first time all tournament.

KU is now 5-5 at the Final Four since 1988 while wearing blue uniforms.

The Jayhawks wore blue during both of its Final Four victories in both 1988 and 2008 and also won one game in blue at the 1991 Final Four before falling to Duke in the national title game.

Unique anthem

Before Saturday's first game — a 69-57 victory by third-seeded Michigan over tournament darling, Loyola (Chicago), one student from each of the four schools participated in a moving rendition of the National Anthem.

Decked out in clothes supporting their school, the student singers took turns singing a verse before finishing the pregame tradition together.


University of Kansas student Darius Sheppard sings the National Anthem before tipoff of the first game of the Final Four on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Sheppard was selected as a representative of KU to sing the anthem with three other students from the other participating schools.

KU's representative, who went fourth in the order of singers, was Darius Sheppard, a KU sophomore and member of the Class of 2020.

“It’s been an amazing week, absolutely incredible,” Sheppard, 20, told Chris Lazzarino of the KU Alumni Association.

This and that...

KU ended its season with a 31-8 record, marking the 15th 30-win season in KU history and ninth in 15 years under Self... The Jayhawks are now 9-6 all-time in national semifinal games and had their three-game semifinal win streak snapped on Saturday night... KU fell to 8-9 all-time against No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and 2-3 all-time against No. 1 seeds in national semifinals... KU is now 3-3 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played in San Antonio... Saturday's loss was the first by the Jayhawks this season on a neutral court, leaving KU 10-1 at such venues this season... Villanova now leads the all-time series with Kansas, 4-3. These two programs will begin a home-and-home series next season, with the Wildcats coming to Lawrence in December and KU heading to Philadelphia in 2019 for a game at Wells Fargo Center.

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Villanova

By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.

By the Numbers: Villanova 95, Kansas 79.


Tony Bandle 3 years, 6 months ago

Sister Jean and Florence should serve as reminders that, when it is all said and done, basketball is just a game and life itself is so much more. Thanks to both of you ladies for giving this year's tournament a special feeling of life and love.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 6 months ago

I feel bad about the loss, but I feel the worst for the parents of our foreign-born players, especially given all that Udoka's mother went through to get here. They made all the effort to come here...for this. :(

Chris DeWeese 3 years, 6 months ago

I'm sure Florence was more than elated to see her son for the first time in 6 years. All parents witness their children win and lose.

Buffalo Lark 3 years, 6 months ago

Let's say Dok and Vick stay.

Garrett, Moore, Dotson as pg options. Grimes, Vick, and KJ at the 2. D. Lawson, Sam, and maybe Langford at the 3. Silvio and Mitch at the 4. Dok and David at the 5.

That's the big version anyways. And assumes D. Lawson can play the 3 effectively.

John Joseph Gorski 3 years, 6 months ago

Newman is the only one with half a chance to go pro and that's just based on the last 7 games or so. Vick and Dok are no where near ready to go pro.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 6 months ago

I might include Silvio with those possibly leaving. I don't think it will happen but if he goes through the draft process without an agent, I would think about it.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't think that Silvio qualifies for NBA Draft eligibility because he is not one year removed from his HS graduation....

Toni Brou 3 years, 6 months ago

His probably “speaks wonderful English” because the official language of Nigeria is ENGLISH. They SPEAK ENGLISH in their country.!!!!!!!

Tony Bandle 3 years, 6 months ago

Heck, I speak terrible English and I was born in Missouri. [oh, come to think of it, maybe that's a clue!! :) }.

David Howell 3 years, 6 months ago

Actually there are 520 different languages spoken in Nigeria. I sold a vehicle to a married Nigerian couple recently. They told me they could not converse in their native tribal languages because they were so different. However, they did both speak very good English .................

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 6 months ago

I was really hoping she was going to bring my lottery winnings that I was promised in an e-mail I got.

Toni Brou 3 years, 6 months ago

The official first language of Nigeria is English. As is the case with a lot of countries except ours, most people there also speak another language, too.

Tracey Graham 3 years, 6 months ago

None of the Jayhawk players are considered first round draft picks. The only one who might go in the first round is Azubuike, and that's simply because of his size/potential. Everyone is would either be a 2nd round pick or go undrafted.

So unless they really need the money or simply don't want to be in college anymore, what decision is there for them to make?

Harlan Hobbs 3 years, 6 months ago

Well, we know that not everybody who can come back will because KU is over the limit on scholarships as it stands now. I am sure that Coach Self has his finger on the pulse of the situation much better than we do by far. When he says that next year's team "will be totally different", he surely knows what he is talking about.

At this point, I prefer to relish all of the accomplishments of this year's team and their growth as individuals and teammates. They had an outstanding year despite the thin numbers. It was arguably Bill Self's best coaching job since he has been at KU, and that is saying a lot considering he has won numerous awards in the past.

Next year will be a full roster, but I can't imagine having a leader like Frank and Devonte have been the past two years. Therefore, cohesiveness could be an issue, but I doubt it. They may struggle a little early, but once they gel, they could be awesome.

Whatever the future holds, it undoubtedly will be successful, entertaining, and a source of pride.

RJ King 3 years, 6 months ago

Over the limit? I count 13. Who's missing:

1 Senior - Vick

5 Juniors - Dok, Newman (Tr), Mitch, D. Lawson (Tr)

4 Sophomores - Garrett, Cunliff (Tr), Moore (Tr), KJ Lawson (Tr), Silvio

3 Freshman - Grimes, Dotson, McCormack

RJ King 3 years, 6 months ago

Ah ... thank you. Yes - total is now at 14. Wow - embarrassment of riches! Surprised Romeo is even in the conversation.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 6 months ago

It will be interesting to see who steps up, if anyone, as the true leader of the team. I suspect that we have to wait and see who all is coming back first.

Right now I suspect that Vick will be back for his Sr. year. I would think that he would be the most likely choice to mature into the role of vocal leader. He may not be the floor general, or the best player on the team, but if he can control his emotions, then he certainly is expressive enough to rally and motivate his teammates. My only concern is that with his emotions he has a tendency to be totally at the mercy of his circumstances, and naturally you want your leader to be unshakeable. Frank and Devonte were the embodiment of that during both of their careers here. No situation was too dire. They always felt like they could come back, and they often did.

Drew Doerfler 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't see any way that Vick becomes the vocal leader or just a leader. Self has described him as a quiet introvert. He couldn't even motivate himself this year to play hard, let alone the rest of his team. His emotions seem to be all over the place depending upon his mood. I wish him the best, but I personally think the best this for both sides would be for him to move on.

Bob Zielinski 3 years, 6 months ago

I won't go into hyperbole but that is a really bad take on the value of Vick. How would KU benefit from Vick moving on?

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 6 months ago

Kansas would benefit by having a better player like Langford joining the team. I thought this was going to be Vick's breakout year but his game hasn't changed much since last year.

Marius Rowlanski 3 years, 6 months ago

If we want Langford then we will need at least 2 players to head elsewhere.

Benjamin Clay Jones 3 years, 6 months ago

Even if he shows up on the draft boards, Newman would be well-served to come back. He could tear up the league next year and vault into lottery range with a series of Buddy Hield-type performances.

Jim Stauffer 3 years, 6 months ago

Or he could have his time split with guys like Grimes, Dotson, Garrett, Vick, little Lawson, Cunliffe and Moore. There will be a lot of talent next year and much pressure and temptation for Coach to experiment with that talent to get the most out of it. Next year's team will play with high expectations. This year most of us realistically expected something in the range of a Sweet Sixteen and every thing else was gravy. Newman is not physically designed for an NBA shooting guard or wing. He will need to make a serious decision from a financial standpoint. His prospects will not increase in another year. He will still be 6'2" or 3" with average length and that is always going to hurt him in the draft.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 6 months ago

I agree.

Could Newman vault his draft stock with another year at KU? Yes, but it's anything but a guarantee. With the expanse of roster depth next season and competition at every position, coming back would be a gamble. It depends on what kind of NBA feedback he's getting this year. I am not certain, but I don't think that he can test the waters this year since he did that after his freshman season.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 6 months ago

It looks like I was wrong... Per Wikipedia, a player can declare for the draft multiple times without losing college eligibility.

"Additionally, players may declare for the draft multiple times without losing college eligibility, as long as they withdraw before the new deadline without hiring an agent or signing a professional basketball contract, and are now allowed to attend the draft combine and one tryout per year for each NBA team without losing college eligibility."

Freddie Garza 3 years, 6 months ago

Given HCBS history, I think it's highly doubtful that Newman goes into next season (assuming he returns) as anything BUT the #1 guard on our roster. The guys coming in are freshmen, and Self places a high premium on experienced upperclassmen, especially those that are as talented as Malik is.

Malik, should he return, will go into the season as the clear leader of this group of guards, and will be a guy that Coach Self leans on as his "security blanket" much like he did with Devonte this year and Frank last year.

Drew Doerfler 3 years, 6 months ago

Newman could increase his draft stock if he stayed another year and worked on his point guard skills. Out of the three of Dok, Newman, and Vick, Newman is the one that I really want to return. I think he could be an all-american next year and be the team leader and some experience in the backcourt.

Freddie Garza 3 years, 6 months ago

Dok is an eventual NBA player, of this I have no doubt. But not yet. He has a problem guarding without fouling and doesn't really have much of a post game offensively yet. He IS an NBA caliber rebounder right now though.

I think he should come back for another year specifically to work on defensive footwork and positioning, and to add a wrinkle or two to his offensive game.

Newman I think has improved immensely over the last month or so, but I think has a chance to drastically improve his draft outlook with another year under his belt as being the top returning guard in our lineup.

Vick definitely is NOT an NBA player as of right now, he needs to show consistent effort night in and night out, and improve his decision making.

This is not wishful thinking by me, I definitely try to be as objective as possible on these things, but I just don't see a guy on our roster who wouldn't benefit and improve their pro outlook with another year at KU.

Armen Kurdian 3 years, 6 months ago

I would have thought Dok would be certain to go pro too, but there's also the question of no short range jump shot. I don't watch the NBA at all, but that was pointed out to me that even the bigs can shoot from short range.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 6 months ago

I think Newman goes, simply because he is being judged now on the hot streak he's been on. He's pretty much at his peak right now and by going pro now, he avoids having to stay that hot all of next year. So I think he goes. I think Dok comes back to keep working on his game, particularly his FT's. That could hurt him in the NBA, not many teams want a hack a shack problem. Vick, no way he gets drafted after the year he had. He has to come back and have a strong year to even be in any draft discussion. I've found we often have an over-inflated view of some of our own players when it comes to the NBA draft.

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