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Originally published April 22, 2019 at 02:32p.m., updated April 22, 2019 at 04:09p.m.

Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike to return for senior season

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) reacts to Michigan State committing a foul late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis. Kansas won, 92-87.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) reacts to Michigan State committing a foul late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Indianapolis. Kansas won, 92-87.

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For the second year in a row, the Kansas men’s basketball program got some good springtime news from its biggest player.

Udoka Azubuike, KU’s 7-foot, junior center who missed all but nine games of the 2018-19 season with torn ligaments in his right wrist, is returning to Kansas for his senior season.

KU coach Bill Self announced Azubuike’s return Monday afternoon via news release.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Self said in the release. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason, as he still cannot participate in the NBA combine or workouts for NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft, but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike explored his pro prospects a year ago, initially declaring for the draft and attending the NBA combine before deciding to return to Kansas on June 1, 2018.

This year’s deadline for underclassmen to enter their names into the 2019 NBA Draft arrived at 10:59 p.m. Sunday night without an announcement from Azubuike or KU.

As a result, Twitter was abuzz throughout the day Sunday, with KU fans waiting to hear from Azubuike.

The hashtag “UdokaWatch2019” was a popular place to mine for information, and KU fans and media members continually checked in about the decision throughout the day Sunday and into Monday.

For a program that has seen several departures since the end of the season — Charlie Moore (DePaul) and K.J. Lawson are transferring out and Dedric Lawson, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson and Silvio De Sousa all have tossed their names into the draft pool, with the option to come back — the return of arguably the toughest individual matchup in all of college basketball is a monster lift for the Jayhawks heading into the offseason.

Azubuike, who is expected to return to full basketball action this summer, is a sure-fire starter, a likely preseason all-Big 12 pick and potentially more.

“If he’s healthy, he automatically becomes the leading candidate for player of the year in the Big 12,” ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla told the Journal-World shortly after Azubuike’s news. “That’s a given. All you have to do is look at where Kansas was last year with Udoka on Jan. 4, the Friday practice before they left for Ames, Iowa. They were 12-1 and they were a Top 5 team at that time.”

It was that Friday, during practice, when Azubuike tore ligaments in his right hand and wrist, an event that kept him out of the Iowa State game and eventually ended his junior season.

According to Self, the injury was the exact same one he suffered in his opposite hand two years earlier, and it paved the way for the idea of Azubuike returning for Year 4 to even enter the picture.

The two wrist injuries are among four significant health setbacks Azubuike has battled during his time with the Jayhawks.

The first wrist issue, which hit in late December of his freshman year, cost him all but 11 games of his rookie season.

During the 2016-17 team’s run to the Final Four, Azubuike lost most of four postseason games because of a serious knee injury that hit just before the Big 12 tournament.

Then, during his junior season, the native Nigerian suffered a severe ankle sprain a few weeks in, and missed nearly five full games while rehabbing that ailment, only to have the second wrist injury surface less than a week after his return to the court.

“Udoka knows that he still has some unfinished work left in college and at the University of Kansas,” Self added in the release. “And he has let us know that he is very excited about the potential for next year's team and the role in which he would have. I am sad he got hurt but happy for our program because if things fall the way that we think they could potentially fall, this is a big piece to anchor what could be a real fun year next season.”

Last week, at KU’s season-ending team banquet, Self told Azubuike in front of a crowd of more than 500 KU supporters that the program would always have the big man’s back.

“I tell Dok this all the time and I do believe this,” Self said at the banquet. “He’s going to get the last laugh on everybody. But his attitude’s gotta stay great and I thought his attitude was unbelievable. And, Dok, just hang in there and whatever you decide to do you’ve got us, no matter what. Love ya. And you’ll get the last laugh.”

Azubuike’s return, which, like Devonte’ Graham’s two years ago, could wind up being KU’s biggest “recruiting” victory of the offseason, gives the Jayhawks some stability in both their front court and the starting lineup.

Before even adding a single big man in the 2019 recruiting class, KU now has Azubuike, senior-to-be Mitch Lightfoot and sophomore-to-be David McCormack up front. Beyond that, KU could be getting De Sousa back, if his appeal of an NCAA suspension is granted, and may look to add another forward or two on the recruiting trail.

Azubuike's numbers in nine games this season — 13.4 points, 6.8 rebounds on 70.5 percent shooting — were on par with his career averages (11.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 74 percent in 56 games), and his experience on just about any stage imaginable should bring added confidence and maturity to a young KU roster that could include as many as six or seven new faces by the time the team reports to campus in August.

“This is a sunny day for Kansas fans,” Fraschilla said. “Udoka’s not only a great kid that’s easy to root for, but, when healthy, he’s a dominant low post player. He really is. In the Big 12 in recent years, usually a guy that’s that dominant is gone after one year. But because of the injuries, he’s back again. This is almost a godsend for Kansas. This is just what they needed.”

None by Kansas Basketball

Comments

Craig Carson 1 month ago

Glad the big guy came back..but still need a few more guyd

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 1 month ago

Huge announcement. Huge relief. Stay healthy and practice your jump shot & free throws big man. We're all glad we'll have the opportunity to watch you in a Jayhawk uniform again next year.

Dirk Medema 1 month ago

Jump Hook more so and slightly different than a pure jump shot.

Coach has let Dedric, Perry and a few others venture out into jump shot land, but it would seem even less likely than Withey venturing out there, and he shot 1.0000 from 3.

Craig Carson 1 month ago

i promise you this...unless its to avoid a shot clock violation, Self will sit Dok if he even attempts a shot beyond 5 ft...right now, he needs to add more post moves, better conditioning and his FT's

Armen Kurdian 1 month ago

I was going to say the same thing, let Dok shoot it during the exhibition games, and maybe during the regular season when we have leads, even give him a shot at a few threes. If we are up big, then a few misses won't matter...might hurt his phenomenal FG average, but that's OK, I think he'll take the practice.

Also agree to more post moves and improve FTs.

Glen Miller 1 month ago

This is great news....... as I just found out Stanley is going to Duke. Not a shock, but still disappointing. Getting tired of getting our ass whipped by Duke. We seem to be the ones suffering while they thrive. That's what happens when you hitch your wagon to Adidas instead of Nike.

Brian Wilson 1 month ago

Let's wait until the trial starts in June!

Dirk Medema 1 month ago

"Ass whipped"?

It's just recruiting and media hype. IIRC we've beaten Duke the last several times we've met.

And Duke's trial is yet to come, and the investigation had little to do with which company we were connected but more about where the Feds could get their informant.

Barry Weiss 1 month ago

wow, simply awesome news! That is worth 10 wins by itself. Few teams could handle that stud.

Tony Bandle 1 month ago

Random Thoughts:

1] Barring any further injury, probably the best "recruit" in the entire country.

2] The front line with Dok, Big Mac and Mitch sounds a whole lot better now.

3] Adding Silvio would be tremendous.[not holding my breath but praying to St.Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes]. :).

4] This pretty much guarantees Devon will return to run the offense.

5] Starting line up- Devon, Garrett, Dok, Ochai and a surprise transfer power forward to be named later.

6] I totally believe that every elite team coach is using the Adidas situation to paint Kansas as a toxic zone for any OADs. Fine...put that chip on your shoulders Hawks and kick everybody's asses next season!!!!

7] We could use a couple more guards with outside shooting talent.

8] Of all the guys leaving Kansas, the only one that doesn't make sense is Quentin......his decision is a real head scratcher.

Len Shaffer 1 month ago

I wonder if anyone else noticed that in Matt's article a few days ago in which he talked about NCAA appeals, he said that they had a 99% success rate. If that's true (which I find hard to believe), it would seem that Silvio has an EXCELLENT chance of being reinstated for next season.

But let's face it, that had to be a typo. Otherwise, why wouldn't everyone appeal every case?

Jesse Johnson 1 month ago

I'm happy with McCormack as starting PF.

Dirk Medema 1 month ago

Dok and McCormick both need someone to stretch the floor. 2 of them within 5' of the basket is just too congested. It was essentially the same problem we had with Withey and TRob, and the reason Withey ended up sitting more than his talent would normally dictate. The 4 needs to be able to cover and be a threat from outside.

Jonathan Allison 1 month ago

I can't imagine it. A kid, 5 star recruit, played for Coach Self on Team USA, got rave reviews, didn't miss a game, was never publicly in any kind of trouble, not suspended, never rumored to have missed practice or been late to any team function. His only fault is that he was a 5 star player who played like a 4 star player most of the year. There is absolutely no evidence of any reason why he would be forced out. Scholarship numbers wise there doesn't seem to be any reason to force him out. We have Vick leaving, Dedric going pro, KJ leaving, Charlie Moore leaving, and only two guys signed so far.

I personally expect that both Dotson and Grimes will end up coming back after the NBA Combine evaluations. Though Grimes' stock could rise after the combine it would be hard to see him elevated to a 1st rounder after the season he had.

I may not be an expert on any of this but I was one of the few who suggested that Vick could be back this year after he declared for the draft and after his mommy said he wasn't coming back. I accurately suggested that he was intentionally not hiring an agent because he wanted to keep his college eligibility, and that if we didn't land Romeo in recruiting I could see a path for him to return to KU. I duly noted that it was a slim chance because I believed that Self was ready to move on from Vick, but even mentioning that there was a small chance for Vick's return got me ridiculed on this site.

Well, I see a fairly good chance that Grimes will be back. I could be wrong. After all, I predicted that Vick most likely would not come back and then he did. But I think that Grimes will realize that he is a first round talent and if he comes back he can get a guaranteed contract next year.

Bill Corrigan 1 month ago

Now a positive NCAA decision on the Silvio De Sousa appeal moves to the top of KU's 2019-20 basketball agenda. FREE SDS.

Brian Wilson 1 month ago

A Dok Mac lineup would be great but if Silvio gets to play then WOW!
Let's hope and pray for a healthy eligible team next year. Great News!

Dave Miller 1 month ago

I agree, Bill Corrigan.

Now is the time for all Jayhawk Nation, nay, ALL NCAA member shcools, to rise up and tell the NCAA that they were wrong in handing down such an extreme penalty to Silvio. Write the NCAA and tell them so! If this penalty is allowed to remain a precedent is then set. The NCAA will not wield their responsibility wisely, they will use it as a sword and cut deep only the school(s) they want. The North Carolinas and Dukes will go unscathed while the KU's or any other school that might defy the NCAA will take the severe treatment that the NCAA has shown. It MUST be stopped NOW!!

FREE SILVIO !!!!!!!!

Dave Miller 1 month ago

IT MUST STOP NOW !!!

FREE SILVIO !!!

IT MUST STOP NOW !!!

FREE SILVIO !!!

IT MUST STOP NOW !!!

FREE SILVIO !!!

Max Ledom 1 month ago

This is about as big as a return as we have ever had. Probably second behind only Brandon Rush. We needed him back BADLY. Now if we get back Dotson and Grimes, the stage will be set. We just need to land a couple more recruits and you are looking at a potential No.1 preseason team ( not that it matters at all, see 2019).

And if we can get the NCAA to overturn their De Sousa suspension, we are rolling with talent. CMON DOTSON AND GRIMES!!

If only KJ stayed. Could have been a great piece next year. Tho Dedric was for sure gone.

Jesse Johnson 1 month ago

Wait, you're joking about KJ right? He was not very good at all. Losing him and Moore (and the mostly useless Grimes) was a perfect thinning of the herd for the team. Would much rather give the schollie to someone else with more potential.

Dirk Medema 1 month ago

KJ was coming on a lot at the end of the year. The same could be said of Grimes. Both were still finding their rolls, but did plenty to help the team. Not as much as anticipated, but still plenty.

Craig Carson 1 month ago

i dont think Dotson returning is even a concern..his draft entry seems to be more tilted towards getting info so he knows what things he needs to do to improve his draft stock

Drew Doerfler 1 month ago

getting Dok back was huge for the frontcourt.....we still need a stretch forward, rebounding forward to pair with him......long shot Precious...or a good grad transfer.....McCormack is not a power forward even if he is listed as one......him and Dok will substitute for each other, but will rarely be on the court at the same time......now if Silvio were reinstated, he would be a good compliment to pair with either Mccormack or Dok. Self still needs to get a couple forwards in this class to have ready for the seasons after this coming one. Next year, we could lose all our bigs with only maybe McCormack returning. That's not how you get depth in the frontcourt which we have been severely lacking for awhile. The Hauser brothers would solve that problem in one get if Self could pull it off, but it looks like they are leaning elsewhere

Mark Wooden 1 month ago

Now if a teammate doesn't freak injure him it will be a full season. With no KU players on mock drafts it would be nice to have Dotson back.

Dane Pratt 1 month ago

I will pray to my god everyday that he plays an entire season injury free.

Bryce Landon 1 month ago

Best news we've gotten in who knows how long!

Adam Bengtson 1 month ago

I think I’m seeing Grimes not even in top 60 American players? Kind of hard to get drafted at all when your down in the 70s of prospects....

Steve Zimmerman 1 month ago

Great news. But we need guys who can score 3s now. We also needs guys who can bring the ball inside and dish, as well. Dok can serve multipurpose under the rim. Unleash the Beast!!!

BTW, that is the best picture kusports has ever picked - very well suited to the article!

Andy Godwin 1 month ago

The lead picture pretty much sums up all KU fans feelings - Yes! Here’s hoping for a healthy season; Udoka deserves it. Now Dotson must return to have someone who can penetrate and dish the ball to Udoka and KU needs to find/develop some reliable 3 point shooters in order to be competitive next season. My guess is Self is still hunting for a big body grad transfer or two to provide depth and rebounding and an experienced scorer.

Bill Lamson 1 month ago

I'm no expert, but we need shooters shooters and more shooters. Assuming Dotson comes back we only have him - and he's gun shy, and Och...and that's it! Unless we get 2 or 3 more guys that can knock them down consistently close to 35-40% teams will just crowd the pait, help on Dok or Silvio and dare us to shoot.

Layne Pierce 1 month ago

5 fI totally agree, go back and look at our losses, and very often we shot under 30 percent from 3, that's just not good enough. Garrett can play by driving and playing incredible defense, and rebounding, Ochai and Dotson have got to make shots, and when they are not, we need one or two guys who are solid, but who can make just 30% or more.

If we don't do that we will have a hard time winning many more than we did last year.
In that regard Stanley is not that big of a loss, because he is not a good 3pt shooter. He is more of a driver.

This is really the key. Dok coming back means that the base is there, but we need outside shooting to keep teams honest, and in addition Dotson and Ochai have to be able to stop for the 8 to 10 ft jump shot, and make it, a la KState B Brown.

RCJH

Stuart Corder 1 month ago

Great news!

So as of now, our “bigs” are: - Dok - Lightfoot - McCormack - De Sousa (remaining optimistic)

Our “guards” are: - Dotson - Ogbaji - McBride - Garrett - Braun

...maybe we’ll add Precious Achiuwa and/or Tristan Enaruna, which would be fantastic ways to seal a decent recruiting year! I’m not so sure we won’t see Grimes return, too.

Even without Precious/Enaruna or Grimes, we have a very talented, top 25 roster.

Charlie Moore is going to do very well at DePaul. It would have been nice to see him get real action on this year’s squad.

I believe Bill Self when he says that if things fall into place like we think, next year’s team could be special. I don’t think there’s any team in the country that can compete in the post with a rotation of Dok/De Sousa/McCormack/energetic Lightfoot. The speed of Dotson and athleticism of Ogbaji means the only “role” we’d need filled is a reliable shooter (which McBride and Braun are both capable).

Layne Pierce 1 month ago

Don't forget the defense and rebounding and all-around heady play of Marcus Garrett. If he could shoot the 3 he would be an all-american.

RCJH

Steve Zimmerman 1 month ago

He doesn't need to shoot 3 to be an all-American, all he needs is finishing strong to the rim. Never miss any bunnies!!!

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