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