Monday, March 30, 2020

KU’s Udoka Azubuike named NABC Defensive Player of the Year

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) stuffs a shot by Monmouth forward Nikkei Rutty (21) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) stuffs a shot by Monmouth forward Nikkei Rutty (21) during the first half on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.


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.


David Friend 1 year, 7 months ago

When was Garrett named the Naismith defensive player of the year. Unless I missed something he was named a finalist last week.

Dirk Medema 1 year, 7 months ago

Maybe inside knowledge? Website ( doesn't list this year's award winners.

Matt Tait 1 year, 7 months ago

Nah. No insider knowledge. See my comment below. Sorry, guys!

Dirk Medema 1 year, 7 months ago

Shows how good they are to have 2 of the best defenders.

Hopefully, this all is making an impression on McCormick. Big shoes to fill.

Phil Leister 1 year, 7 months ago

Matt, do you know something we don’t?

Matt Tait 1 year, 7 months ago

Quite the opposite, in fact... LOL. Sorry about that!

Tony Bandle 1 year, 7 months ago


The two best defenders and one of the best point guards and no tourney. From a life standpoint this is a small blip compared to what's happening and may happen around the world, but it still hurts.

Question: Is that two or is it three more jerseys for the wall in Allen??

Matt Tait 1 year, 7 months ago

This is a great question.

If Garrett winds up winning the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honor and caps off his career with a strong year next year, he'll have a legit case to be up there someday.

Dok's already a lock to be up there eventually.

If Garrett brings home that DPOY trophy, Dotson is probably the biggest question mark of the three, but a pretty strong case can probably be made for him, too.

Wild stuff. What a team.

Matt Tait 1 year, 7 months ago

My bad, y'all. Ugh. Hard to keep all of those national honors straight sometimes.

Garrett was the Big 12 DPOY and the named same via (I believe). But he has not, as of yet, won that Naismith honor. We'll know soon enough if he does. The Naismith awards are announced Wednesday.

Hopefully he'll win it and I'll look like a genius or a prophet or both. For now, though, I'm just a dope.

Sorry for the mix up. It's fixed in the story now.

Stay safe, happy & healthy out there!

Blake Brown 1 year, 6 months ago

Thanks Matt. I/we appreciate you and all you do for keeping us informed and engaged.

William Dostert 1 year, 7 months ago

So am I just nuts hoping that Dok comes back next year after seeing the NCAA ruling? He could work on an outside shot which would get him into the top ten on draft day. It’s ok if you call me crazy. We could go 38-0 with Dok.

Tim Orel 1 year, 7 months ago

Nice thought, but the NCAA didn't give that extra year to winter sports like BB and hockey. Just to teams that basically lost their whole season.

I don't think Dok would come back anyway. Yes, he could work on extending his range, but I think he's as hot as he's going to get after all the awards this year. Time for him to go test the draft at the very least (again).

Dotson still might come back, but he's probably gone as well. The one major reason I could see him go for a third year would be if the NBA told him he needs something else for his game, like a better 3 point shot. He might also want to pursue the post season since he's only 1-1 in the tourney at this point. I just don't see that, and KU has very good players coming in next year. KU also might face a punishment handed down by the NCAA and that could make a postseason not happen again next year. No, I think the surer outcome would be Dotson and Dok going pro and KU having to have the next guys up.

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