Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What’s next for Udoka Azubuike the free throw shooter?

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) puts up a free throw late during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) puts up a free throw late during the second half at Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma.


Now that the free throw misses heard 'round the world are a thing of the past — you know, like 16 hours old now — it's worth exploring where the Kansas basketball team and big man Udoka Azubuike go from here.

In the eyes of Kansas coach Bill Self, who put Tuesday's 85-80 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma squarely on his shoulders for a “bad decision” to leave Azubuike on the floor with the 12th-ranked Sooners employing the Hack-a-Dok strategy and putting the KU big man at the free throw line on purpose, the easiest place to start is by finding a way to help Azubuike become a better free throw shooter.

That may be easier said than done.

Azubuike entered Tuesday at 41.1 percent for the season and emerged following a 1-of-8 free throw shooting night — including 0-of-6 in the final four minutes — at 37.5 percent for the season.

The native Nigerian who leads the nation in field goal percentage (77.4 percent) but has shot nearly all of the 130 field goals he has made (in 168 attempts) with one hand from inside of five feet or two hands via the dunk, never has looked comfortable nor competent at the line and it's easy to see the Sooners' strategy coming into play again at some point this season unless Azubuike addresses the issue.

While images of hours of extra free throws on his own — a la Landen Lucas last season — and an intense look at form, technique, stance and set-up all come to mind, Self said there was more to the fix than fundamentals.

“I think mentally he's got to accept what he needs to do and obviously not remember. He needs to have a short memory,” said Self, who noted after Tuesday's loss that he hoped he had not killed his center's confidence further by leaving Azubuike in the game to miss those crucial free throw attempts. “But also, from a technique standpoint, we're not going to change his shot in February. It's not going to happen. If you're going to change a shot, you're going to change it as soon as the season's over and give it six or eight months.

“I've had boosters say, 'Shoot them underhanded, do this, do that.' I don't think that that's going to be the case moving forward. But the bottom line is he's just got to see the ball go in the hole.”

Asked if he ever would use the strategy that Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger used on Azubuike, Self said sure. Asked if he ever had, the answer was no.

The philosophy behind Self leaving Azubuike on the floor instead of opting to sub him out in favor of reserve forward Mitch Lightfoot, an 82 percent free throw shooter this season (albeit on 47 fewer attempts than Azubuike), was rooted in showing in confidence in his young center.

And it might have worked had Azubuike (24-of-64 from the line this season) hit closer to his average and knocked in even just two of the six attempts he got. Instead, he came up empty and left Self and KU fans everywhere wondering what the give-away loss might lead to.

“Who knows if this will end up being something positive down the road because maybe he'll focus and concentrate and work on it harder because he didn't like how this felt,” said Self, highlighting the glass-half-full mindset. “Who knows? Maybe if he works on it harder and gets better at it then when he's in pressure situation again, which he will be, maybe he'll shoot a higher percentage. I don't know.”

What Self and the Jayhawks do know is that they'll do whatever they can to support Azubuike, in good times and bad. And they're confident that the sophomore big man will not let a sour ending at OU define his season.

One look at Azubuike's face while walking off the floor, and obvious frustration after each missed free throw, showed a player who took the moment hard. But also one who cared enough to get serious about working to make sure such a scenario did not cost Kansas again.

“Let me just say something The best free throw shooters are always your best shooters,” Self explained. “And I don't think anybody thinks Dok's a good shooter from behind the 3-point line. And you could say the same thing about Shaq or other guys. ...But all athletes need a short-term memory. I mean, no matter what you do. You trip, you have to put it behind you and correct it. But this one will sting for a bit because he cares so much. But I think that he'll respond favorably from it.”

KU senior Devonte' Graham, who said he did not see OU's strategy coming, agreed with his coach about the KU center's resolve.

“I felt like he knew the fouls were coming,” Graham said. “He just didn't go up there and knock them down. … But I think he'll bounce back pretty good. Right now it's probably going to mess with him a little bit.”

More news and notes from Kansas vs. Oklahoma

By the Numbers: Oklahoma 85, Kansas 80.

By the Numbers: Oklahoma 85, Kansas 80.


Barry Weiss 4 years, 8 months ago

well, my question would be, why did we not change his technique starting at the end of last season, or whenever his wrist healed? Clearly its needed it from day one. My next question is why "hope" that he works on it, MAKE him spend most of his practice on it. I don't understand why we have such a wishy washy approach to this....can't change it now....hope he works on it.....etc. Be proactive!!!!!!

Eliott Reeder 4 years, 8 months ago

This. He hurt his LEFT WRIST. He could have been shooting free throws and running all day every day for the past year. Instead he comes in out of shape and with one of the the worst free throw forms I have ever seen. I just don't get it.

Jack Brooks 4 years, 8 months ago

I'd venture a guess that Self's approach is to encourage Dok to work on it in his own time. College coaches are all limited to how much time they can work with the players each week, so that needs to be spent on game preparation and running plays. Something as extremely fundamental as free throw form/shooting requires the player to really devote himself to working on it in his own time.

Tommy Tripp 4 years, 8 months ago

Hogwash. If Self truly believes his form can't be changed now then that is total BS. He has to change his form NOW. No way on earth anyone (even Steph Curry) can shoot FT's holding the ball on the left side of your head and expect to make them. He has just as good a chance of making them if he turned around and threw it over his head backwards as he does with this form.

Clara Westphal 4 years, 8 months ago

If the coaches have limited time, then get someone like Wayne Simien or Jeremy Case to come in and show him how to shoot a free throw correctly. Something has to change. He needs help because he can't improve on his own just spending time throwing the ball up there like he is doing now.

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

Its going to continue happening until the kid starts making them........deep breath....elbow in...visualization....who throws are so mental...some players never overcome it.

Dick Williams 4 years, 8 months ago

Good point on the elbow moving in as he simply needs to be told to line his right arm up with the basket instead of lining it up to shoot into the corner of the building. But as I say later in this whole thread move intentionally away from defenders while the ball is being moved to the basket as quickly as possible. The intentional foul was created exactly for this reason...wake up!!

Benjamin Clay Jones 4 years, 8 months ago

What nonsense! This is Self basically saying, "We're going to have him keep doing what he has been doing and expect a different result."

Why would changing his form at this point be such a disaster? Can he make FEWER than 0 out of 6? You can get a feel for shooting free throws the Rick Barry style (i.e., underhanded) in about an hour. It's not that hard.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 8 months ago

C'mon Matt, you can write the obvious what Kansas will see henceforth. Since you seem to be missing it, I'll tell you: Every team has about 13 players that can play but typically uses a rotation of 8. That leaves 5 players sitting on the bench. Once Kansas gets in the bonus, those player will be utilized to foul Dok...every time. That's 25 fouls teams could use with great returns. Dok's utility will be only at the start of each half, until the bonus is reached. Dow's inability to shot, jump shorts or FTs reminds me of schools like UNC in academics, who have no interest in the welfare of so many kids. If Self and the coaching staff are truly interested in Dok's well being, they teach him how to shoot. Dow's inability to execute anything near the correct form is inexcusable.

Matt Tait 4 years, 8 months ago

Maybe they can trade him then? Get a future draft pick for him.

I understand the theory you're talking about but coaches don't generally do stuff like that. Will he get fouled. You bet. But that's been happening all year. These latest misses just happened to come at the end of a big game and cost KU a game.

They'll figure it out.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 8 months ago

Don't be trite.

I made this point on Scott's column. The objective is to win. The strategic means to victory is to attack the opponents weakness while avoiding there strengths,per Sun Tzu ( 5th century BC. By fouling Dok (not Dow) after the bonus, our opponents accomplish both. Dow's foul shooting is a glaring weakness. Kansas running offense is our strength. Fouling Dok accomplishes both. Wait to see what happens in Manhattan.

Benjamin Clay Jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Well, they don't seem to be figuring it out, Matt. They've had a year and a half with him to teach him not to throw the ball up like he's tossing a pizza pie in the air! Self said they're going to stick with his current form, not change anything midyear. They don't seem to have a clue.

Dale Rogers 4 years, 8 months ago

Shoot, Devonte' or any of the current players could help him. It doesn't have to be a coach. With those terrible mechanics, just forgetting the last one is not going to help. Even I could see how he twists his hands during the shot. Get the kid some help, don't just hope he gets better.

Matt Tait 4 years, 8 months ago

I think Self's point was exactly this: Now that Udoka has been burned by it, he's going to work harder than he ever knew he could to get it corrected.

Time will tell if that works.

Benjamin Clay Jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Work smarter, not harder. The Rick Barry method. Easy-peasy.

Freddie Garza 4 years, 8 months ago

"I've had boosters say, 'Shoot them underhanded, do this, do that.' I don't think that that's going to be the case moving forward. But the bottom line is he's just got to see the ball go in the hole.”

I love me some Coach Self. But this is about as horrid a response as I've heard from him. This is the absolute easiest thing to fix in basketball, and what you're basically telling me is that you aren't interested in fixing it.

Len Shaffer 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm with you, Freddie. As much as I love Self, that response is pretty much inexcusable.

Brian Skelly 4 years, 8 months ago

Have Rick Barry come hang out for a week and Lawrence and work with him. At this point, he should try anything.

Even if he never gets over 65%, 2 outta 3 isnt bad for college.

Robert Brock 4 years, 8 months ago

Where did Azubuike learn the elbow out, side-spin, short-arm technique?

Robert Brock 4 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps Phil Niekro could lend some advice to Doke.

Brad Watson 4 years, 8 months ago

Move him over to one side like Henry Bibby....that might throws are mental....everyone is a little different....maybe just one step left or right might be the cure.

Benjamin Clay Jones 4 years, 8 months ago

When you have form that bad, free throws are not "mental." Worst form I've ever seen.

Dave Miller 4 years, 8 months ago

Malik or Devonte (or both) need to grab Dok and go to the gym. At this point, any improvement in form has got to be better than doing nothing. The only thing accomplished in doing nothing is.... NOTHING.

Bob Thompson 4 years, 8 months ago

He doesn't have to go to the gym, the gym is in their dorm.

James Donnell 4 years, 8 months ago

Not change his mechanics now??? How ridiculous. Steph Curry wouldn't be able to make a FT using Dok's style. The right arm has to come up near the right ear. Right now, he is looking on the right side of ball, when he should be looking on the left side. He does it right with his practice motion when he goes to the line but doesn't use that when he actually shoots. Let him at least TRY a different approach. It may give him some confidence, and it certainly couldn't be any worse. It is that definition of insanity again, expecting a different result when doing the same thing over and over!!! I fear this is going to cost us dearly again at some point in this season if something doesn't change. And the psychological burden is not fair to Dok.

Dick Williams 4 years, 8 months ago

He should be looking at the back of the ball sir.

Barry Weiss 4 years, 8 months ago

very strange is this response from coach. he's basically throwing in the towel and leaving it up to Dok, who has shot like this for two years, to figure it out on his own. I have to think the Hack a Dok is going to increase big time now. Before, it was a more subtle defense some teams would apply by fouling Dok. Now that its out there in the open and our own coach is okay with it, I'd say we are going to see a lot more of this, and probably earlier in games. I can see us getting up 10 in a first half, the opponents insert some slug to hack Dok and it will be a damn good gamble on their part. Just strange.

Kent Richardson 4 years, 8 months ago

Throwing in the towel is it exactly. I give up!
Self hoping for a short memory and hoping he didn't make things worse? Good lord. Bottom line is Self made a choice that cost us a game. I think Self hopes the public has a short memory and this all goes away. It won't go away until this loss becomes irrelevant. Another several weeks, at least.

Doug Clark 4 years, 8 months ago

More practice won't help with his current form, if they just let him practice on his own it will only be harder to change later, I played basketball and I guarantee you that if I had a teammate like this I would take it upon myself to go to the gym and try to help him, if the coaches are restricted on time then maybe Devonte and Svi as seniors can try to help, I know I would if I was in their position.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 8 months ago

Sounds like an achieavable solution to me...

Jerry Wall 4 years, 8 months ago

I have watched Oklahoma play several times this year. One thing I notice about Trae Young is every time he drives and someone is guarding him closely he pushes them away with his non dribbling arm. Is this not a foul?

Brian Babcock 4 years, 8 months ago

They called it on him once at least when he pushed Devonte away on a fast break.

Louis Williams 4 years, 8 months ago

I can fix this in 5 minutes. Raise the left elbow a bit and push the ball to the right side of the head. Whatever happens cant be any worse and the technique will be correct. Problem solved. Rock Chalk!

Rob Byrd 4 years, 8 months ago

They need to pull that YouTube video of Jim Boeheim shooting free throws. Have him watch that and mimic the technique there and he would be miles better than he is now. Boeheim must have made 70 in a row with one dribble and a shot.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 8 months ago

Throw it off the backboard as hard as he can, step forward, grab the rebound and go in and dunk the ball. As crazy as that sounds, I'll bet it will result in more points than he is scoring now.

OK, I will remove my tongue from my cheek right now!

Dick Williams 4 years, 8 months ago

What was the reason they created the intentional foul for? It is as simple as Udoku staying away from the defender and forcing the intentional foul call. Done, finished, answered...good grief.

David Howell 4 years, 8 months ago

Quit coddling your big man. It's simple, if you cannot perform in crunch time HCBS will have to pull you out. Maybe then he will get the hint ...........

Now as to his NBA potential. Is the dunk or baby hook all he's got ? If so he needs to stay another year to develop his game, etc. Its not like he is great at rebounding either !

Terrence D Cernech 4 years, 8 months ago

He could be shooting better than 60% in two weeks following a simple method. Hold the ball in your shooting hand comfortably in front of your waist area. Be comfortable. Let the ball roll up and back in your hand until you are comfortable that it is balanced on your middle finger. When you are comfortable raise your hand up to your shoulder rotating it into a shooting position just off your shoulder with your elbow under your hand. Standing directing in front of the rim by a couple of feet elevate your hand and the ball and flip the ball into the basket while watching for the correct back-spin rotation. Make ten and take a step back and repeat the process. make ten and take another step back. repeat until you are at the free throw line. Make ten free throws and start all over from under the rim. Making free throws consistently starts with a simple repeatable motion that is easy to duplicate. (similar to bowling and your golf swing, it has to be repeatable.) Then it is a matter of seeing the ball go through the hoop and realizing that not only can you do it but that you can do it consistently. At that point it becomes a matter of belief without doubt that you will make the shot. Good shooters never doubt that their shot is going in the basket. Never.

Tom Jones 4 years, 8 months ago

Were you hanging around the dorm the other day?

Blake Brown 4 years, 8 months ago

I was surprised this tactic had not been done in some of the more recent games when he was in. WVU, BU and KSU all passed on doing so and I questioned the absence of doing so each game and then Kruger finally makes the right decision.

The more accurate name for fouling him is "Poke a DoK".

Doug Merrill 4 years, 8 months ago

I think everyone has missed the point of coach's comments: My guess is that he has and will be working with Dok on this, but doesn't A. Want fans telling him how to coach; B. Put more pressure on Dok by telling everyone about all the work they are doing (and he still can't shoot...).

Justin Kruse 4 years, 8 months ago

I'd say call "glass" and try to bank in every free throw. If he misses, which he often will, maybe we get a lucky bounce and get the board.

Or, shoot them one handed. It would force him to get his shooting hand under the ball.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.