Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Knee injury to keep KU center Udoka Azubuike out of Big 12 tournament

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) applauds his teammates from the sidelines during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) applauds his teammates from the sidelines during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.


Kansas City, Mo. — A man of few emotions and even fewer words, Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike was particularly engaged during top-seeded Kansas’ Wednesday afternoon practice at Sprint Center.

There was, however, a problem.

Azubuike’s elevated activity and energy at the practice came with him wearing street clothes and serving purely in a supporting role ahead of his team’s opening game of the Big 12 tournament. The Jayhawks will face Oklahoma State at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Azubuike will not play in this weekend’s Big 12 tournament, no matter how long the Jayhawks stay alive, Self announced early Wednesday afternoon, because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

The injury occurred with about 10 minutes remaining in Tuesday’s practice, one of two consecutive practices that Kansas Self classified as solid, featuring the Jayhawks going hard the entire time. According to Self, who lamented the timing of the injury and said he felt as bad for Azubuike as anything else, his center was injured on “a routine basketball play.”

“The ball was shot and he kind of ran around his man to get the rebound and a body kind of crashed into his man and knocked him off balance and he just kind of fell into him,” Self explained. “Total freak thing.”

Self said he did not know at the time that Tuesday’s collision would cost Azubuike playing time and added that even Azubuike’s teammates were saying, “Come on, Dok. Get up.”

“I could tell the longer he stayed down that (KU associate director of sports medicine) Bill (Cowgill) was concerned,” Self added. “He didn’t have a lot of pain. It was just loose.”

Azubuike had an MRI as soon as practice was over and the results of that, along with a diagnosis from Dr. Jeffrey Randall, revealed a Grade 1 sprain, which, in the medical world, is the least severe sprain a person can suffer.

“Similar to an ankle or whatnot, there’s obviously a ligament that’s strained or stretched and it’s too loose to put him back out there,” Self said. “But these are injuries that I’ve been told the healing process can begin very quickly, at 48-72 hours.”

Azubuike, who missed all but 11 games of his freshman season because of a broken wrist, displayed a positive attitude almost immediately.

“Dok’s young, and last year, when he broke his (wrist), it messed with him,” Self said. “This year, it seems to me, would mess with him more, and he’s been coaching the guys.”

Added KU senior Devonte’ Graham, who shared Self’s disappointment for Azubuike: “Last year was the first time he had been injured like that so he was real down and depressed. But he’s actually had a pretty good attitude since this morning and at shoot-around, he was out there clapping and stuff like that. He didn’t seem as down as he was last year.”

Self told the team the news Wednesday morning, before Azubuike got to KU’s team meeting. When the KU big man did arrive, Self had instructions for him.

“I said, ‘Dok, these guys need help,’” Self shared, referencing KU forwards Mitch Lightfoot, who will start in Azubuike’s place, and Silvio De Sousa. “And he sat there and he talked to Silvio the whole time about certain things. He’s maturing. He’s disappointed, but he can help us win games. Not as much as he can from being on the court, but he can put his handprint on it being off the court, too.”

Azubuike continued to take his mentor role seriously during Wednesday’s practice, encouraging De Sousa and Lightfoot throughout the session and talking individually to each one when the other was on the court executing Self’s instructions. He walked stiffly and with a slight limp and appeared to be wearing some kind of brace on his left leg under his black McDonald’s All-American Game pants.

While Azubuike was playing the role of temporary coach, KU's actual coaches continually yelled, "Talk to him, Dok," reminding the sophomore that KU's healthy big men needed him Wednesday more than ever.

It remains to be seen what the Jayhawks (24-7) will look like with Azubuike out of the lineup, but both Self and Graham said the team had options.

“We can maybe play to shoot the 3-ball more and play some zone to rest some guys,” Self said. “We can do some different things. But certainly ball screen defense is what I’d be more concerned about than anything, because Dok’s as good a ball screen defender as there is.”

Graham, who leads the team with 224 assists (7.2 per game), many of them coming on lobs to Azubuike, said not having the 7-footer on the floor would be “different,” and added that he thought his team would likely rely on jump shots a little more.

“You can’t throw the ball up to Mitch and Silvio like you can to ‘Dok just because of how athletic he is,” Graham said before discussing a possible five-guard lineup. “We ran it earlier in the year. It didn’t look too good. So we’re probably going to stick to the four guards and one big. But if they get in foul trouble then we might have to do something with five guards and maybe just throw it out there and see how it works.”

Azubuike’s injury, the latest in a line of bad luck for KU big men near the end of the season — a back injury cost Joel Embiid the end of the 2013-14 season and Cliff Alexander missed the end of the 2014-15 season because of eligibility issues — is similar to the one suffered by former KU forward Perry Ellis near the end of the 2014-15 season.

Ellis suffered a mild sprain of his MCL in a Senior Night game on March 3, 2015, sat out the season finale at Oklahoma four days later, missed KU’s Big 12 tournament opener on March 12 and was back in the starting lineup for KU’s Big 12 semifinal game on March 13.

Even though Ellis was not quite his normal self upon his return, he averaged 28.3 minutes per game during KU’s final four games of the season — including 34 minutes in a second-round NCAA Touranment loss to Wichita State — and Self is optimistic that Azubuike could follow a similar timeline in the days ahead.

“We just don’t have much time to deal with it,” Self said. “But he’s definitely not playing this weekend regardless.”

In the statement announcing Azubuike’s injury, Self said, “our expectation is that he’ll be back on the court next week.”

“That’s what the doctors have told me,” Self said. “They said there’s no guarantees because you don’t know how fast some guys heal.”

With both options still in play, Graham and the Jayhawks are proceeding with cautious optimism.

“I just feel bad for him,” Graham said. “It’s just terrible timing. You know he wants to be out here playing.”

Asked if he had a feel for whether Azubuike would play again this season, Graham sounded hopeful.

“Like coach said, if his attitude is right and he approaches recovery and treatment like he’s supposed to then he should be back,” he said. “(If he doesn’t play), we’re going to have to be (OK). We can’t think about it. If he’s not playing, we just have to do next man up.

“The talk this morning was just, it is what it is. You can’t make him play through that. We’ve just got to go on and play. If it’s a week or two, we’ve just got to go on and figure out how we’re going to do it without him and the best thing for us to do is win so that we can get him back.”


Bryce Landon 1 week, 6 days ago

The very thing we all feared would happen to this undermanned team - the injury bug has bitten.

Craig Carson 1 week, 6 days ago

at least it isnt anything major..he will have an entire week to get healed..even if KU is given a 2 seed, they should still be able to beat a #15 with him playing limited minutes

Brett McCabe 1 week, 6 days ago

Here's to a solid and quick recovery for Dok. I'm sure he's a bit heart-broken right now.

Meanwhile, it's mettle-test time for the rest of the team. Specifically those with the initials LV.

Brian Wilson 1 week, 6 days ago

I agree. LV needs to step up. Also....another positive from this...if by some miracle we can get all fired up to beat OSU maybe Silvio and Lightfoot get some valuable practice going into the tournament. It would be nice to see Silvio get a rhythm and build some confidence. Further, maybe Cunliffe gets a minute or two as well.

I know everybody here thinks Cunliffe will move on but I don't think so. I am guessing on out of Dok or Malik may jump this year. Depends on how far we go this year and where they project to land if they jump.

Craig Carson 1 week, 6 days ago

Newman is probably gone..he has stayed in college longer than he probably thought he would..Azibuike should stay, he wont over power NBA centers like he has college, he'll need more post moves than dunks and running hook shots.

Kent Richardson 1 week, 6 days ago

interesting to see how we respond. Dok will have a week or so to rest.

Silvio and Mitch will get tested and I don't see them backing down.

We may see some five guard too.

It looks like OSU has 27 boards in the first half of bedlam 3.

If we don't miss any shots we can cut down on that.

If we could somehow win against whomever it is then maybe we found something. Two 6'8" Centers I just don't know.

Marius Rowlanski 1 week, 6 days ago

Maybe we get to see what Self saw in Silveo although not hardly a fair venue. Maybe we win a game or two OR everybody gets PLENTY of rest.

Better this week than next.

John Brazelton 1 week, 6 days ago

At this stage of the season, practices should be more walk-throughs than full out practices. This is what happens that kills KU's season more than not. This probably a sign from God that KU's season is over.

Austin Bergstrom 1 week, 6 days ago

I'm going to go ahead and trust Coach Self's approach. He is in the hall of fame and you are?

Brett McCabe 1 week, 6 days ago

Yes, but John will defend relentlessly our other coach with one win in three years in conference play. It's a head-scratcher.

Bryce Landon 1 week, 6 days ago

And Oklahoma State just beat Oklahoma.

The worst-case scenario is coming to pass - no Udoka, a white-hot OSU team that has humiliated us twice already...

How long has it been since Kansas was the victim of a three-game sweep?

Duane Peschka 1 week, 6 days ago

KU will not win without Azubuike. They could not win even with him. It is ridiculous to practice as they did because, as stated earlier, their practices should have been shooting drills and walk throughs. Self will NOT change his poorly played Man-to-Man Defense. Lightfoot and De Sousa are no match for any opposing team. There still is lousy play with lackadaisical effort from Vick. No #1 Seed for KU in NCAA tournament. OU will not make the tournament even with all the hype about Trey Young. Self is gradually losing his aggressive edge in coaching. He NEEDS to change or adapt to different styles of play to counter poor team mechanics, but without Azubuike it really will not matter. Hopefully the remaining players with the addition of viable transfers learned some lessons and will be a much improved team on defense and rebounding. Thus we will have to wait till next year. ROCK CHALK.

Len Shaffer 1 week, 6 days ago

Wow, that is one of the most negative posts I've seen on here in a long time. Self's "adjustments" have been so terrible that KU managed to win the toughest conference in the country by two games.

And you obviously haven't been very observant, because Self has probably played more zone this year than in his first 14 years at KU combined.

So either you're not watching the same games that the rest of us are or you're so predisposed to be negative that you've lost the ability to deal with reality.

Gerry Butler 1 week, 6 days ago

lmao, ya old Duane he is just a bundle of sunshine isn't he Len? - -WOW is right -- the way he talks is like Coach Self is more of a rookie Coach then a Hall of Fame Coach - -Duane you do remember Coach Self is now in the hall of fame right? - -I think I'll take my chances on him and his decisions rather on what you might have to offer - BUT hey you hang in there your going to be all right. -- Like Len said umm which games have you been watching? - -obviously NOT KU'S - Coach Self has changed more this year with his approach then anytime in recent past ya think? - -much more zone - -even talked about how they might play more zone - - - AGAIN in this article? - - Did you read THIS article Duane? - - It's ok have yourself a V-8 take a deep breath and like the little red engine just say - -I think I can - - I think I can -- try a little positive thought process man holy crap lighten up things are gonna be ok the sky is not falling - -and like Aaron said - - -R - - -E - - -L- - -A --- X

Austin Bergstrom 1 week, 6 days ago

I'm thinking we play pretty well tomorrow and win by double digits. Usually when the doubt is the greatest, they surprise us the most! Haters gonna hate!

Gerry Butler 1 week, 6 days ago

You know what Austin? - -Actually I have a tendency to think you very easily could be right. - -I have this feeling - we haven't shot the 3 at all against them in either game - -I'm feeling today might be one of those games where we might just light it up. - I don't care who you are like we have heard many times it's hard to beat ANY team 3 times in a row in one year. - - I think even without Doke for this their is going to be some motivation for sure.. - -Plus even though this shouldn't be in play but I think they will be much more focused today without Doke - -although they always need to be focused but some times they just seem lacking sometimes. - -But I agree I think this will be a good day in the end - -I think Oklahoma State has played a little over their heads in both encounters and could be in for an off shooting day theirselves. - We have just got to lock in and ratchet it up - -

Jay Scott 1 week, 6 days ago

"Austin", will you get a royalty when I fly through the airport that bears your name later today?

Robin Smith 1 week, 6 days ago

sounds of laughter floated up through the ringing silence following the absurd rantings

Mike Hart 1 week, 6 days ago

Well, Duane... you made quite a few statements... and I can honestly say I disagree with almost all of them. OSU has shot the ball better than us... from 3 point land in both games. They also shoot more than twice as many foul shots...and we turned the ball over to them way too many times. This is a great opportunity for Lightfoot to step up... and a great opportunity for DeSousa to gain some valuable experience and confidence. Your criticisms of Self are unfounded... you're just a negative Nancy.

Jay Scott 1 week, 6 days ago

The Chicken Littles never completely disappear....

J.L. Forge 1 week, 5 days ago

Jayhawks win!!! Don't quit your day job sir......RCJH!

Len Shaffer 1 week, 6 days ago

My first thought when I saw the headline was, "We've seen this movie WAY too many times before." But after reading the article, I feel a little better. Thank GOD it happened this week and not next. Let's just hope that the injury is as minor as it seems to be and Dok is back completely healthy in time for the tournament that counts.

And if KU does happen to lose again to OSU, the one consolation is that the Big XII should be able to get at least eight and possibly NINE teams into the Madness -- how crazy would that be?

Jay Scott 1 week, 6 days ago

A chance for Silvio to get minutes and confidence. Perhaps the best case scenario.

Craig Carson 1 week, 6 days ago

DeSousa getting more minutes is about the best thing to come from this..Jawhawk nation will rest easier if he goes out and puts up good numbers...

Bill Anthony 1 week, 6 days ago

Lots of time for Dok to practice the release mechanics for free throws. Get him back for the NCAAs shooting a solid 55-60% from the line with a more experienced Mitch and Silvio. Might help later more than it hurts now.

Clark Groseth 1 week, 6 days ago

Exactly! Dok can spend the weekend shooting free throws and rehabbing his knee...and who can tell what the rest of these guys can do!

Armen Kurdian 1 week, 6 days ago

I have a meeting before the game starts, will miss part of it. Oy. This will be tough, Svi & Devonte have to step up. Put Young in, give him some time, I'll bet he'll be our dark horse.

Tony Bandle 1 week, 6 days ago

Ever wonder where the phrase "Dark Horse" came from??

Did some horse in the distance past won a race at midnight or maybe an underdog horse that was all black. Something to ponder as we await KU's revenge victory game against a truly over confident Okie team!

Dark Horse for this game..........The Vickster!!!!!

F Steven Blazer 1 week, 6 days ago

Probably won't happen, but it would be interesting to see both Lightfoot and Silvio start the game. It's been so long since we played two post players together, that I miss seeing it! Regardless, we have to knock down 3's and hold our own on the boards and we can win this.

[''] 1 week, 6 days ago

Zenger is already on the hotline to hire Kevin Stallings of Pittsburgh if Self bails on us. He has everything Zenger likes in a HC: 4-32 record in the ACC in the past 2 seasons. Stallings has Kansas ties (former assistant under Roy. Just like Beaty once coached under Mangino.) Get ready.

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