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Two-and-done?: Udoka Azubuike talks power game, college impact

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With Kansas basketball underclassmen Cheick Diallo, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene already tossing their names into the 2016 NBA Draft pool for consideration, and senior bigs Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor moving on — not to mention the possibility of more underclassmen testing the draft waters — right now very few things are certain about the 2016-17 KU roster.

One player, though, coach Bill Self knows he will have at his disposal while pursuing the program’s 13th Big 12 title in a row is incoming freshman big man Udoka Azubuike.

The massive 6-foot-11 center, while playing for Potter’s House, in Jacksonville, Fla., has made a habit of first destroying overmatched defenders in the post, then unleashing on the rim.

Obviously, that won’t be as easy to do once Azubuike gets to college and faces Big 12 defenders in the paint. But the native of Lagos, Nigeria, got a taste of more intense competition this week in Chicago, at the McDonald’s All-American Game. Said to weigh around 280 pounds, with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Azubuike played for the East all-stars and registered nine points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes.

East center Udoka Azubuike, from Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., dunks against the West team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West won 114-107. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

East center Udoka Azubuike, from Potter's House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., dunks against the West team during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. The West won 114-107. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

You can bet his fellow all-Americans tested his prowess at practices leading up to the all-star showcase, too. In a video interview for DraftExpress.com — conducted by Markelle Fultz, who will play at Washington — Azubuike revealed a little about his McDonald’s experience, and a lot about his expectations as a college basketball player.

“It’s pretty fun, like playing against some of the best players in the country,” Azubuike told Fultz, “playing against some of my teammates, and all of that, so it’s pretty fun and intense.”

Interestingly enough, the future Kansas big man, who said he projects as a center for the Jayhawks, didn’t hesitate when asked how long he expects to play college basketball.

“Pretty much two years,” Azubuike responded. “Two years and I’m goin’.”

(Like Svi Mykhailiuk, Azubuike will be 17 years old during his freshman year at Kansas, so draft rules dictate he couldn't enter the NBA until playing at least two seasons of college hoops.)

You have to respect the kid for being up front on the matter. Almost every high-profile basketball recruit goes to college with the idea of turning his skill set into a profession, and most dream of getting to the NBA and playing for a living as soon as possible. Good for him for not hiding his intentions.

Still, it sounds as if Azubuike — just like Diallo, or Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, or any big man not named Karl-Anthony Towns or Anthony Davis — still has a ways to go as a player before he becomes as unstoppable in the college or professional ranks as he was against high school opponents.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlaLPCne8Xk

A huge smile overtook Azubuike’s face when asked about his highlight of the all-star week experience

“Pretty much just going out there, dunking, having fun,” he said. “I like to dunk. I like to compete. I like to just go out there and play my heart out.”

Known for his power game inside, Azubuike described how he attacks on offense.

“Each time I dunk, I just dunk with great intensity,” the 16-year-old said (he’ll be 17 by the time his freshman season at Kansas begins). “Like people think that I’m just going out there to break the rim, but I mean it is what it is.”

Again, that approach will only get him so far in college. An SI.com story on Azubuike earlier this year described the young big as a “man among boys” at the prep level, but added he lacked touch in the paint, and his footwork needed fine-tuning.

To his credit, Azubuike realizes he has shortcomings offensively.

“I have been working a lot on my hook shot,” he told scout.com. “I am getting very comfortable. Everybody says I just dunk all the time, so I have just been working on hook shot and my jump shot a lot to get comfortable doing that.”

Members of the scout.com staff watched McDonald’s practices this week, and reported Azubuike’s size, strength and motor make him a force in the paint when he gets the ball. While he usually scores via dunks, the developing post player utilized a right-handed hook, too, in Chicago.

East center Udoka Azubuike, from Potter's House Christian in Jacksonville, Fla. dribbles the ball during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

East center Udoka Azubuike, from Potter's House Christian in Jacksonville, Fla. dribbles the ball during the McDonald's All-American boys basketball game, Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

Azubuike, like Joel Embiid and Diallo, played soccer as a youngster before picking up basketball. He told DraftExpress he tries to practice his jump shots outside of the paint, because he knows that area is one of his weaknesses.

“My strength is just to go out there and dominate, back to the basket, kind of game,” Azubuike said. “Just trying to dominate by, you know, hook shot or just going out there to dunk.”

Imagine how helpful it will be for Azubuike to learn about his shortcomings — and improve upon those, as well as his strengths — by going up against KU’s Landen Lucas, a strong senior-to-be who made a name for himself by out-thinking and out-positioning physically strong post players.

Don’t expect Azubuike to arrive in Lawrence ready to start. It appears he will be too raw to replace Lucas as KU’s starting center. But his forceful approach to the game could make him a useful weapon off the bench for the Jayhawks next season.

And then maybe he’ll get a year’s worth of starting experience before entering the 2018 NBA Draft.

Comments

Steve Macy 12 months ago

Looking forward to watching this young man. RCJH

Steve Macy 12 months ago

One other thing, if I looked at the dates correctly it is amazing that Svi is younger than a recruit that KU and KU fans want in Lawrence. Josh Jackson is older than Svi.

John Randall 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Josh may have developed – physically, mentally, emotionally – at a rate more normal for teenagers. We see some fast, some slow development among this age group ... "normal" development covers such a wide range that predictions are totally presumptuous.

Example: we may be looking at a few kids who hit a peak at 16 or 17 which they will never exceed. Others may be just entering their own development cycle which continues for eight, ten or twelve more years.

Most fans, observers and even coaches have no clue which type of youngster they are looking at.

Brett McCabe 12 months ago

Random eligibility question:

In football, there are a few kids who graduate from high school in December, arrive on campus in January and are able to participate in Spring practice.

For basketball, especially an elite-level prospect, would either of the following be possible or desirable:

  1. Graduate in December. Arrive on campus in January as a redshirt. Go to class, practice with the team and get a jump start on learning the program?

  2. Graduate in December. Arrive on campus and be immediately eligible to play?

My guess is probably NO to both since I haven't heard of anyone ever doing it. However, if my kid was an elite college prospect, I'd get him off the AAU circuit and on a campus at the first possible moment. To me, if you are fast-forwarding yourself to the pros, you might as well fast-forward yourself to college. In fact, I'd be working night and day to possibly have the kid graduate an entire year early and get on campus.

Jonathan Allison 12 months ago

I could see scenario 1 being highly beneficial to the player, however, the coach only has 13 available scholarships and so you have to have one ready for the kid when he gets to campus. If a kid is going to do that, then he probably needs to try to set himself up to graduate college early (which shouldn't be too difficult since you get a one semester head start and go to summer school) because if you want to transfer, and you already used a year of eligibility by sitting out a spring semester, then you would lose a year of eligibility to transfer.

Steve Macy 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Let them be kids a little longer, and what does that do to state tournaments? To their HS season? I might be a little naive about this, but they are rushed so much as it is.

Dirk Medema 11 months, 4 weeks ago

It works in FB because of how the season correlates with the semester. BB doesn't have that advantage. That's why Maker waited for this season. He could have started in January, but no one appears to have been interested.

John Randall 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Thon Maker is not college material, either for entrance or for academic requirements once he sets feet on a campus. It would require a squad of tutors or a department of UNC-type make believe courses to keep him eligible for even one year. And that would be after somehow getting him qualified to enroll.

Jonathan Allison 12 months ago

Benton, thanks for the articles on Udoka and Jackson, can you get access to their HS statistics? I would like to see their Sr. year and career HS averages in FGs, FTs, 3pts, assists, TOs, rebs, blocks, steals, etc.

The Draft express report on Jackson indicates that he's a below average FT shooter and needs a lot of work on his 3pt shooting. Obviously 3pt won't translate linearly to college anyway because of the competition, but FT shooting should give an indication of a players stroke. Read that Jackson is a career 60% FT shooter or something. Which concerns me about his jump shot as well. They also said that he needs to work on his dribble and that it's still too high. Watching his tape, it looks like he's a good passer and got a decent handle, but you never see him shooting very much, mostly just dunks and layups. Sounds like Wiggins had a better J and better raw athleticism and maybe Jackson has better dribbling/passing.

Robert Brock 11 months, 4 weeks ago

What interests Bill Self about Josh Jackson is Jackson's defense. He locks on his opponent like a harpoon.

Jonathan Allison 11 months, 3 weeks ago

That's good news about Jackson's defense. He obviously wouldn't be the #1 rated recruit in the nation he if he is not a very good player. I certainly understand that Self has evaluated the kid extensively and is willing to take on a lot of risk (if we miss on him) in order to try to sign him.

I would like to read up on what scouts and coaches think about him and how his game projects to college and pro games. I'm not an insider and it's not always easy to find honest and good evaluations of HS kids from what's readily available online. I can't even find his HS stats. Just the stats from 7 games at the FIBA U19s.

I'm certainly not saying that we shouldn't want the kid. We absolutely should. But I just think that we need to have realistic expectations about who he is as a player and what he is not. He could come in an lead the team in scoring, but he's not going to be a lights out shooter. If he can be Wiggins on defense, and Selden on offense though, that's a pretty amazing freshman.

Eliott Reeder 11 months, 4 weeks ago

That is great news that he will be here a guaranteed two years at least. Love it.

William Weissbeck 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Don't we have spies? Is Svi still in class? That's usually a tip off to someone who won't be around. Saw a USA Today mock draft. Neither Selden or Ellis in the first round. After Simmons, Ingram, Hield and Valentine is was just a bunch of guys who I haven't followed. Where are the slots for everyone else? Don't recall seeing Grayson Allen's name on the list. Is he not turning pro? Is tripping not an allowed defense in the NBA?

Kristen Downing 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Really, only 17? He looked huge. Man, I hope there has been due diligence on his eligibility BEFORE he comes to Kansas.

Jay Scott 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I doubt that any school has made any queries into his academics or eligibility at all...............

Steve Zimmerman 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Why can't Lucas have the same mentality as Udoka? Or why can't the coaching staff develop Lucas as a great "dunk on everything" Big? He is in KU, right? Don't we have a program like that? Is the coaching staff satisfied with Lucas being a rebounder? Doesn't Lucas want to become a more powerful Big than just being a rebounder or serving as a defensive role? I saw so many chances that Lucas can be used more than just a rebounder, especially as a great screener in pick-n-roll situation.

I'm worried Udoka falls into a system that will not utilize his skills. Imagine BS places him in high-low, mostly. He will be trapped, so what's he going to do? Kick the ball out. He will end up like Lucas. Udoka's role will transition to just a rebounder and defensive power.. Udoka is not Wiggins. I have yet to see him catch a lob in his clips. But watching our plays this season, we can count how scarce the lobs are. Say bye-bye to 'dunk on everything', Udoka. Welcome to KU!

Steve Macy 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Did you get this comment in before midnight? Good April fools post. If serious, Landon does not have the athleticism or potential that most think Udoka has.

KJ Quartermaine 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Lucas basically averaged a double-double per game after he was inserted into the starting lineup. Not sure why you need to bash him

Steve Zimmerman 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I gave you thumb-up, KJ. I apologize if my statement sounded like bashing Lucas, but I wasn't doing that. I realize his prowess as a sound rebounder and defender, but also I realize he's got more potentials. That's all.

Matthew Peters 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Sir, Mr. Zimmerman landen lucas after four years has just now learned to catch the ball and pivot without traveling, It has also taken four years to learn how to set a complete pick and not be called for a foul. If Lucas and I'm going to throw traylor in their too had that capability in freshman and sophomore season's then their game might gave been able to transcend being merely adequate as college basketball players. Landen Lucas's game has taken a step forward yes but to say the we need lucas to make jump shots next year as a senior for us to be a complete team is wrong. Please don't compare udoka to landen the only thing they share is size. YES LANDEN AVERAGED NEAR A DOUBLE DOUBLE BUT HE SHOULD HAVE EIGHT PIONTS OFF TIPINS EASY AND IF YOU DONT REBOUND NEAR TEN A GAME FOR KANSAS AS A STARTER THEN..... WE ALL KNOW PERRY ELLIS DOESNT REBOUND SO WHO WAS THAT LEFT UP TO.UCAS

Brian Mellor 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Shoot, I wasn't sure if I should take you seriously until you unleashed the Caps Lock.

Edward Daub 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I like Udoka , I like him alot. He is a true "space eater" who can "carve out" space in the paint. He should be a solid backup to Landen next year and develop into a formidable beast his second year.

Steve Zimmerman 11 months, 2 weeks ago

Udoka "Bulldozer" Azubuike - gymns in Lawrence better be Udoka-proof by now, or we'll start seeing shattered backboards everywhere he plays.

I'm sure I will enjoy watching Udoka dunking on everyone next season!!

https://youtu.be/JEA2VyR7rR4

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