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A small hint at a big decision for KU junior Udoka Azubuike

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Injured center Udoka Azubuike (35) watches from the bench during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Injured center Udoka Azubuike (35) watches from the bench during the second half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Late in the Big 12 Conference basketball season, Kansas coach Bill Self provided an update on junior center Udoka Azubuike, who missed all but nine games of the 2018-19 season with a hand/wrist injury.

In it, sometime in early March, Self explained that Azubuike still had a screw in his injured hand, was limited in the weight room, was forced to wear a cast for precautionary reasons and had not participated in any contact drills since injuring the hand in early January.

None of that, of course, came as much of a surprise. When Azubuike injured the opposite hand in the same manner in late December of his freshman season, he was not cleared to resume full basketball activities until June, and a similar timeline is expected this time around.

The one difference this time, however, is the question of whether Azubuike will still be at KU when he’s cleared to get back to basketball.

Self’s comments from a few weeks ago hinted at an answer to that, too.

When asked if he thought Azubuike would be a better player after using the bulk of the 2018-19 season to study the game with his mind and later use his observations from the bench as part of his attack, Self briefly addressed Azubuike’s future.

“There’s so many things that he has been so limited on that it would be hard to get better,” Self said. “What you would be hoping for would be maintaining. He’ll be a better player next year than he would have been this year, not because of that, just because he’ll be a year older. He’s still real young. I doubt we’ll get a chance to witness that, though.”

Because Azubuike was out and therefore could not impact KU’s seed or postseason hopes, the comment kind of came and went with little to no attention. But Self’s statement was not all that surprising, given Azubuike’s past.

For one, he took his decision to stay in the draft or return to Kansas for his junior season down to the wire — announcing his return roughly 11 hours before the deadline — and spent most of the month of May trying to find a home in the NBA so he could make the jump.

It never happened, and Azubuike returned to KU with the goal of working on the areas the NBA folks told him he needed to improve. It’s worth noting that Azubuike continued to work hard in the areas he could work — mostly cardio — often running stairs or sprints while the Jayhawks practiced.

Nine games is not enough of a sample size to show whether the work Azubuike did in the offseason significantly addressed the improvements NBA officials wanted to see, so it’s hard to know whether the 7-foot Nigerian actually improved his standing in the eyes of NBA scouts and GMs.

But at the time of his injury, the junior center looked an awful lot like he did as a sophomore, averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on 70.5% shooting in just more than 20 minutes a game.

His final numbers from the 2017-18 season were strikingly similar, albeit over a much longer period of time — 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game on 77% shooting in 23.6 minutes per outing.

What all that means for Azubuike is anybody’s guess. And there’s no doubt that even with his latest injury, Azubuike has done everything he can to keep his body, conditioning and mind in the best basketball shape possible.

We saw that often during the postseason, with Dok running sprints or stairs on the side while the rest of the team practiced on the floor.

But based on Self’s recent comment and the fact that the big fella was so eager to leave a year ago, it’s not hard to envision him foregoing his senior year and turning pro.

Best case, he catches on with an NBA squad — drafted or not — and finds a way to parlay his mammoth size and ability at the rim into a nice career.

Worst case, he heads overseas and makes a bunch of money that way.

There is, of course, a chance that Azubuike could elect to return to KU for his senior season, but the native Nigerian always has struck me as a guy who’s more eager to be a pro than a four-year college player.

Either way, we should have a better idea of the 7-footer’s future plans in the next week or so.

Recent NCAA/NBA rule changes made it possible for college prospects to test via the combine and pre-draft workout stuff more than once, and it would make perfect sense for Azubuike to look to take advantage of everything at his disposal.

Comments

Phil Leister 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Dedric just announced that he's turning pro. Sure hope we get Dok back. If we don't have Dok, and the Silvio appeal is unsuccessful, next season doesn't look too bright on the big-man front.

Karen Mansfield-Stewart 2 months, 2 weeks ago

I think you're right Phil. Next year might be disappointing if Silvio's appeal is unsuccessful. He might go down in history as the player I wanted to see most - but never did (other than the quarter of a season he did play of course). I think he would of/could be an amazing college basketball player. I think Q is likely gone too so next year's team is going to be vastly different.
Fingers crossed we land at least two of the three major recruits we're in on.

Steve Zimmerman 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If we can get Dok body trimmed, stamina increased, like McCormack did to his, we will see a Dok v2.0, I think. With his current size, Dok has already got a nice footwork - I can only imagine his v2.0 move around the basket and dribble driving to the hoop. :)

Ted Adams 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If he wasn't available to workout last year for the draft, I don't see how his wrist is going to allow him to go through the draft workouts this year. That would hamper him quite a bit.

I could see him announcing his availability AND assuming he wasn't drafted, coming back for one last season at KU to try and prove he can make it through a season without getting seriously hurt.

Pius Waldman 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If Dedric is listed as a 45th pick only 15 more 2nd round picks Doke better forget about going pro this year. Also his age speaks highly for another college season.

Pius Waldman 2 months, 2 weeks ago

On another topic why in the dickens is De Sousa not granted a hearing to determine if his harsh punishment is possibly shortened. Those that supposedly gave money got only months punishment. The KU AD needs to with his authority force a hearing. De Sousa needs a decision as another year not eligible doesn't make sense.

Bee Bee 2 months, 2 weeks ago

The corrupt morons who suspended him arent going to reinstate him. Why would they?

Layne Pierce 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Pius, the case of Silvio shows why the NCAA has to go. If there was ever a violation of someone's rights, this is it. If your uncle robs a bank you get 2 years in prison, you should have known!!!

NCAA is looking very bad on this one and that is what scares me, they are in a corner and scared and they are going to lash out. Look it up, Silvio got one of the harshest penalties the NCAA has ever given a player. Fact is they took the csh- way out. They don't have enough evidence to ban him permanently, and they don't want to let KU get away with anything, even if they can't prove it.

So a young man's life can be screwed up, just to save face for the NCAA -holes.

RCJH

William R. Beck 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Ahh! Gone are the good ol' days when you could commit academic fraud for 14 years involving hundreds of students and receive no punishment.

Marius Rowlanski 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Let's see how the NCAA and FBI goes after Duke, Nike, and Zion.

David Howell 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Easily .......... swept under the rug faster then the blink of an eye. Evidence burned, gone, etc.

Tim Orel 2 months, 1 week ago

Simple, as far as the NCAA is concerned. They've made an example out of KU. No need to carry things further. The FBI is a new player, so I don't know what they're going to do. Still, if they punish people, it won't be the schools. That's for the NCAA to do, and I've already stated the NCAA feels the point has been made already.

Bj Cassady 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Doak probably gone, DeSilvo probably gone, Grimes probably gone, KJ gone, D Lawson gone, C Moore gone. No backcourt, No Frontcourt. Looks like it is time to hit the panic button.

Jim Stauffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Charlie Moore and Q leaving means no backcourt? Just a bit dramatic, don't you think? Braun and McGuire will contribute more than those two did IMO.

Marius Rowlanski 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Next year looks as though there may be a lot of minutes waiting to be earned. I only hope we can find some players.

Craig Carson 2 months, 2 weeks ago

if KU already had at least one decent front court prospect signed then losing Lawson and Dok wouldnt hurt as much...but the idea of losing them AND missing out on Hurt/Precious makes the notion that KU might find itself unranked a few times next season a very real possibility...Self and his staff have their work cut out for themselves this offseason...as much as I love Self, I wish we could be like every other blue blood and have our top 10 recruiting class signed months in advance so we dont have to stress during the off season

Jim Stauffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If you are not one of the top 2 (Duke and UK) it is likely better to play the season out for recruits and get the ones that are best suited to your style of play and who are most committed to college ball. The only OAD we ever had who elevated our team above what they would have been otherwise were JoJo and Jackson. All the others were trimming on the tree.

Bryce Landon 2 months, 2 weeks ago

But Josh Jackson didn't get us to the Final Four. In fact, none of Bill Self's Final Four teams had OADs on them.

Robert Brock 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Hurt is not coming. Achiuwa is not coming. Enaruna is not coming.

Layne Pierce 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Robert How do you know? And anyway there are a lot of transfers out there. It may come down to getting someone who can really help and play, even if they don't have a great pedigree.

Frank Mason was not that high ranked. Ochai was an unknown. So it can be done.

RCJH

Dirk Medema 2 months, 1 week ago

Layne - It was written on the top of the sky and only readable after it fell. Or didn't you realize the sky is falling?

While there might be a dearth of 1-n-dones on our FF teams as well as those playing for the 2019 NC, maybe it's even more noteworthy that transfers figured prominently in the game.

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