One week after watching teammate Marcus Garrett become a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award, KU senior Udoka Azubuike on Monday received national hardware for his work on the defensive end of the floor.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches named Azubuike the top defender in the nation this year for his dominance on the glass and as a shot blocker.
In 31 games, the 7-foot senior grabbed 324 rebounds (10.5 per game) and blocked 80 shots.
A good chunk of those came during the second half of the season, when Azubuike averaged a double-double in Big 12 Conference play and helped Kansas end the season on a 16-game winning streak.
“His season went from a B season to an A+ season,” KU coach Bill Self recently said of Azubuike on The Jayhawker podcast. “He was so good the last 16 games of the season. He took it to another gear, his confidence level raised, he realized that he could dominate a game and get people talking about him and he never had to put the ball through the hoop in order to do so.”
While Azubuike’s ability around the rim was what stood out, Self pointed out throughout the 2019-20 season just how good the native Nigerian had become at moving his feet on the perimeter and defending the entire floor.
His presence alone, both at the rim and after switching on ball screens, often took teams out of their offensive flow entirely.
“He’s always been good defensively,” Self said. “But he became a guy that went after every shot, made people think about it when he was in there and certainly covered for everybody’s mistakes. … Udoka could change everybody’s game plan on how you attack us and could certainly, as much as anything else, discourage teams from attacking the paint.”
Those attributes, along with his offensive prowess and nation-leading 74.8% field goal shooting earned Azubuike Big 12 Player of the Year and inclusion on several first and second team All-American squads.
“My teammates and coaches have played a huge role in all the awards I receive,” said Azubuike in a news release Monday. “It is a humbling experience. The fans, everybody has played a huge role in me being where I am today. I want to thank the coaches for selecting me for this honor. There are a lot of great defensive players in basketball and to win this award is humbling.”
The NABC first began handing out its Defensive Player of the Year honor following the 1986-87 season. Azubuike becomes the second Jayhawk to win the award, joining 2013 recipient Jeff Withey, who was a co-winner along with Victor Oladipo of Indiana.
Dayton’s Anthony Grant was named the 2019-20 NABC Coach of the Year and Dayton’s Obi Topping the NABC Player of the Year. NABC Freshman of the Year honors went to Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. and Iowa’s Luka Garza won NABC Pete Newell Big Man of the Year recognition.