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Udoka Azubuike learns how to deal with injuries

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Kansas center Udoka Azubuike watches from the sidelines as teammates Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot and Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa run through drills during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike watches from the sidelines as teammates Kansas forward Mitch Lightfoot and Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa run through drills during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

Watching practice from the baseline at Sprint Center on Wednesday ahead of the start of the Big 12 Tournament, injured Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike constantly tried to help coach the players who would be filling his minutes.

Whenever freshman Silvio De Sousa wasn’t involved in a play, Azubuike stood beside him to offer pointers. When De Sousa was back on the court, Azubuike yelled reminders to him and clapped when he successfully rolled to the basket after a screen or pinned his defender with a move in the low post.

The Jayhawks are hopeful that Azubuike — sidelined with a Grade 1 medial-collateral ligament sprain in his knee — will be healthy enough to play in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But they noticed that he’s handling this injury better than his season-ending wrist injury last year.

“When he broke his (wrist), it messed with him,” KU coach Bill Self said.

Devonte’ Graham added: “He’s actually had a pretty good attitude since (Thursday) morning. At shoot-around, he was out there clapping and stuff like that. He didn’t seem as down as he was last year.”

When Azubuike tore ligaments in his wrist last year, it was the first time he’s ever suffered a season-ending injury. He felt like it came at a time when he was just starting to figure out the speed of the college game.

As a 17-year-old freshman, Azubuike started started in six games and averaged 5 points and 4.4 rebounds.

“It was a bit frustrating for me not being able to play my freshman year,” Azubuike said earlier this season. “Sometimes stuff happens for a reason."

Azubuike credited his family for trying to help him stay positive through the rehab process. He watched and learned from Landen Lucas, but he was disappointed that he couldn’t help the team more.

His roommate Clay Young — matching the oldest player on the team with the youngest player — suffered a torn ACL injury before he transferred to Kansas. It gave Young a way to relate to Azubuike and he tried to help him cope with his teammate’s first injury.

“My mom is really religious, she’s like real Christian,” Azubuike said. “Each time she talked to me, she always read a Bible verse or tried to encourage me. That really, really helped me a lot just to stay the course and keep my head straight.”

In the offseason, Azubuike was healthy and tried to improve his own game. He added a hook shot to his offensive arsenal. He’s worked to become a better defender.

But one of his proudest achievements was something he accomplished away from any game. It happened without any fans watching. Before the start of his sophomore season, he completed all eight days of the team’s boot camp.

“I think he was pretty nervous to have to go through it all but he did well and he ran pretty well,” Young said. “I was happy for him.”

Azubuike is expected to be re-evaluated by doctors Sunday, which should give him and the Jayhawks a clearer picture if he will be available for the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

But his teammates are proud of the way Azubuike has handled his latest setback.

"He's maturing," Self said.

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