KU center Udoka Azubuike to return for junior season

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' direction after an Oakland turnover during the first half on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

The Kansas Jayhawks officially have their big man back.

Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike, who spent the past month or so testing his status with the NBA, decided today that he would return to Kansas for his junior season.

Kansas coach Bill Self confirmed the news to the Journal-World shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Azubuike's decision to spend another year in college keeps KU coach Bill Self from having to replace all five starters from last season's Final Four team and, perhaps more importantly, gives the Jayhawks, on paper at least, the look of a team that can be absolutely lethal down low.

In 36 games as a sophomore, Azubuike led the nation in field goal percentage, making 211 of 274 attempts for a 77 percent mark. More than 100 of those 211 field goals were dunks and Azubuike made a name for himself — and also earned third-team all-Big 12 honors — by becoming an offensive force near the rim.

Of Azubuike's decision to return, Self told the Journal-World that the 7-foot Nigerian's announcement marked the start of what could be a monster season.

“He prepared as hard as anybody we've had in the combine and went and helped himself,” Self said of Azubuike's week in Chicago in mid-May. “But he probably didn't help himself to the point where he would be a guaranteed first-round draft pick. … But I think he'll be more motivated now. And I think he'll be more prepared. And certainly he's going to be much better. Moving forward, with him being the most experienced player on the Kansas team, I think there'll be a lot of additional responsibility on him and I think he's really looking forward to that.”

Instead of being the focal point of a thin front court as has been the case during the past two seasons for the Jayhawks, Azubuike figures to be the top dog in a big man rotation that includes both serious talent and tons of depth.

Consider this for an indication of just how healthy KU's front court will be during the 2018-19 season: Mitch Lightfoot, he player who was most relied upon throughout the 2017-18 season whenever Azubuike was in foul trouble, needed a breather or was injured, will go from being crucial to KU's chances at success to the fifth biggest body on the Kansas roster.

The 7-foot, 274-pound Azubuike, will be joined up front by Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson (6-9, 230), returning sophomore Silvio De Sousa (6-9, 245) and incoming freshman David McCormack (6-10, 260), giving Self the luxury of returning to his more familiar style of playing with two big men instead of four guards.

As for Lightfoot, who played at 6-8, 210-215 most of last season, he KU's list of bruisers should allow him to return to his more natural 4 position.

Excited to have his dunk machine back for another season, Self said he viewed Azubuike's decision as a win-win for the KU basketball program.

“It's great (he's back),” Self told the Journal-World. “But it would've been great news if he was guaranteed to be a first-rounder, too. I think Udoka handled this the way it was intended to be handled. He declared not knowing what his intention would be but he knew he had to get certain feedback in order to stay in the draft. So the positive is, he knows the experience, he'll be more prepared, he knows what people are telling him he needs to improve on and he's still only 18 years old so even next year he'll be one of the youngest players in the draft.”

Comments

Dirk Medema

Work with Coach T starting under the basket on 1 handed shots out to the ft line.

Slides with Hudy to be able to defend the 3 when drug outside.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Agree, hopefully Hudy can add some muscle to his frame.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Daniel Parker

a little footwork...get rid of the elbow hook down low...reduce the fouls and dominate the boards. Great news to have him back. Tough to lose 4 starters, but, the having Moore and the Lawson's in the program for a year is a huge win. This team looks stacked if the 5 stars are even close to their billing.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Pius Waldman

We need to appreciate his commitment to return. Age wise even though a junior still very young. Needs to work on shots other than dunks and yes free throws. He will be able to be aggressive as there will be subs in case he has foul trouble.
With improvement he will be a 1st round pick next year.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Dirk Medema

Could we go monster with Mitch and KJ at the 3?

Any word confirming Silvio's continued eligibility?

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

Right decision. His game still needs a lot of development. Monster dunks do not NBA ready make.

Between this and last week's removal of Zenger, there is hope for KU Athletics!

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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John Strayer

Are we sure Self would risk playing Silvio? If they held Preston out after a car accident, I'm pretty sure being indirectly link to the FBI investigation is a sure sign he won't play next year. Unless the NCAA moved to recertify him before the season, that is. If that is even done.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

if I were KU, Id be pressing the NCAA to make a decision with or without the FBI being done in regards to Silvio...hate to have a kid like that on the roster, fully healthy and NOT play him. But at the same time, they really cant play him without knowing his eligibility status (no sense risking another season)..plus its not fair to DeSousa..he needs to know if he will be held out or not so he can make the best choice for his life

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Does the NCAA need to do anything? He's been cleared already and the FBI lists Silvio as a victim.

Truth is Craig, I don't know what rules even apply. DeAndre Ayton played and Miller is still coaching.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

the NCAA could very well retroactively decides to make KU vacate wins if they decide Silvio was ineligible..the NCAA cleared Camby, Rose and other only to come back and say, sorry but you have to vacate those wins and take down those banners...Id rather them NOT take that chance..the NCAA cleared him BEFORE he became tied to the FBI scandal...smart money is to hold him out until KU knows 20++++% that he can play without issue

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

and Ayton was already playing when the FBI scandal broke..KU now knows Silvio might have issue and they can control any possible violations before it affects their upcoming season

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Good (and predictable) news!

Now we just need to figure out what the plan is for Silvio...

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I think Udoka really wanted to go pro, NBA pro and realized that it wasn't going to happen and that there is no better place for him to improve then where he already is.

But yes, I think it is what most people predicted but I don't think it was such an easy decision for Udoka.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Certainly, it's all of these kid's goal to get to the NBA. Fortunately for everyone involved, he now has the feedback to know EXACTLY what he needs to improve on to get there from the people he's trying to convince to draft him. It's now up to him to put in the work to improve in those areas to become a millionaire next year.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I'm pretty certain that Udoka was the 77th ranked prospect, meaning that he has a lot of work to do before he ever plays in the NBA.

I expect a lot of improvement after what was Udoka's real first season. If not, he might not have a starting job once conference play starts.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Karen Mansfield-Stewart

I'm super excited about next season! If we can have one or two of the guards shoot 35% or better from the three point line we are going to be tough! Welcome back big man!

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

1) I really dont even know why DeSousa keeps being brought up in stories regarding next years roster..unless the NCAA clears him AGAIN, He should never see the floor during real game time...he seems like a good kid who may have gotten screwed over by those around him, but for the sake of the team there is no way you can play him. KU already is at risk of losing last season, why risk this upcoming season as well.
2) KU could have the best front court in the nation..if KU's back court can just make enough 3's to keep teams honest, I dont see any Big 12 team being able to contain their front court

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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['']

Now that Nick Collison is retired, perhaps he can come to Lawrence this summer and work with Dok. After that he would be unstoppable.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

that would be awesome..he could work with the big men like manning did

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Barry Weiss

This is great news. Dok now can focus on getting his FT's to 60%, and developing some shot, any shot, other than his great dunk. More rim protection too.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

unfortunately, Self will use him strictly in the post..he'll pull his hair out if he sees Dok shooting 10ft jumpers...I think Embiid could have done at KU what he's doing in Philly right now..Self just preferred him in the post..whatever jump shot Dok develops will have to be developed at the next level..he should focus on being more agile on D since a lot of centers in the NBA like to drive, a few more post moves and improving his FT %

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Chris DeWeese

Smart move.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Dave Miller

Dang, but I want basketball to start!! Late night is next weekend, right? lol

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jay Scott

DeSousa is cleared. End of story.

Unless the NCAA has advised that he may have some issue he plays.

If every player who could conceivably have broken some rule at some time were to sit out while the NCAA decides whether they're going onto Dean Wormer's Double Secret Probation there would be no NCAA competition in any sport.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Brian Leslie

There aren't many players associated with wiretapped phone calls and 5-digit payouts. Google "Brian Bowen", who sat out all of last season after an FBI wiretap and appealed to the NCAA and was just declared ineligible for all of 2018-19 as well. Pretty sad story - he is unlikely to be drafted and is unlikely to continue his education.

The figure there was $100,000, but it seems that the NCAA is not in a forgiving mood on this. If any LJW staffers read this, you should do a quick blurb story on Brian Bowen.

I agree that SDS seems unlikely to have been in the loop on the payments (considering the weird Maryland aspect, it's almost certain he DIDN'T know), but the NCAA is not sweeping the FBI investigation under the rug. It's by no means over for Arizona and Coach Miller, either.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Good post Brian. Who does the NCAA report to? Does the NCAA even have any outside oversight? They obviously do a crap job and no one ever seems to want change and or improve the NCAA. .

Just thought that I would point out that 100,000 is actually a six-digit payout.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

IDK about that..the NCAA cleared him BEFORE he became tied to the FBI scandal...just because they cleared him doesnt mean they wont decide to retroactively make KU vacate games..keep in mind, Camby and Rose were cleared by the NCAA and in the end it didnt stop them from vacating UMASS and Memphis FF seasons..IMO, with KU having front court depth, why play him and take the risk..plus, I dont wanna have to worry all year if any of their wins are even gonna matter

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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David Klamm

Craig - What you are saying about Derrick Rose and Marcus Camby simply isn't the full truth. Rose was initially cleared to play, but when the NCAA became concerned about his scores they warned Memphis and Calipari that they shouldn't play him until they confirmed his ACT/SAT was legitimate and Memphis chose to play Rose anyway. As for Marcus Camby, I've read the story, as told by Camby, and pretty much everybody on the UMASS campus knew he was taking money from multiple people. Camby says he was just a college kid trying to get what he could, but UMASS and Calipari were punished for playing stupid. Not even close to the De Sousa scenario.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

either way, KU now knows Silvio is tied to this FBI scandal..its one thing to play him last season without knowing but to play him this season KNOWING his name is tied to the FBI investigation, why take that kind of risk? especially on an assumption..do we really wanna be like Louisville and have to vacate multiple FFs? I d rather DeSousa sit until KU knows for certain..they dont have to suspend him, just dont play him

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Great comments. I especially like your comment, Pius. We do need to show appreciation for his decision, because it's pretty clear that he would have liked to stay in the draft. However, he hopefully is making the best long term decision for himself and his family.

I am also glad that I was wrong. My hunch was that he wouldn't return, but I was clearly in the minority on that. Just chalk it up to being a contrarian I guess. Then again, maybe it was just a little bit of reverse psychology.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Lawrence McGlinn

Dok's weaknesses are so obvious that hopefully they are not so hard to fix....? Trim down, improve footwork, shoot free throws, develop a turnaround of some sort and at least the beginnings of a mid-range jumper (for NBA). That's a lot, but it is just conditioning and hand-eye coordination stuff that hard work can improve. Looking forward to seeing his improvement.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Hard to slim down from 5% bodyfat but I agree with the rest.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

any jump shot he develops will have to come at the next level..with his size, Self isnt gonna want him shooting 10ft jumpers..he needs to focus on his footwork on D, adding more post moves and improving his FT %

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jay Scott

Great point! Self isn't a fan of any big taking outside shots. The Morrii are the only major exception I can remember. Simien a bit. No centers.
Ellis fired that Jr High girls set shot a bit, but later in his 4 years. He wasn't really a true big in many ways. Just a slow, clumsy and non jumping 3.....which is why he's not a good pro....

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

Self let the Morris twins shoot because they had decent shots coming into KU and they were way more agile than Azibuike..Ellis would have been a great center if he was 6'10 and weighed 30 more lbs..his game was more a flexable center than a stretch power forward..Simien actually had a good 10ft jumper...but he also played in an era where big men didnt take outside shots

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Tony Bandle

Random Thoughts :

1] Dok made the right decision for any number of correct reasons but he will need to improve in all the areas you guys have correctly listed above or he may be in the same boat after next season.

2] If Silvio is cleared, should Lightfoot consider a red shirt and get stronger? If Silvio is gone then it's a no brainer,..,Mitch joins the front line rotation.

3] If some of you haven't seen any videos, Mr. McCormack is a friggin' BEAST!!! This guy is going to get his money's worth every time he fouls someone.

4] My NCAA prediction for the Silvio situation....NCAA takes away one scholarship [the one we haven't used yet\], Silvio is suspended for the first semester [kind of a pay back for granting him an early entrance last season], KU gets a slap on the wrist thus letting the NCAA appear in charge, the victories stay, the Final Four stays, post season stays.

5] Nothing about #4 is fair, but it is far less than what the NCAA could really hammer Kansas on based on institutional control, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah blah!!

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

1) he made the right choice..20 yrs ago he'd be 1st round because big men still played like men instead of trying to be guards
2)smart $$ says Silvio doesnt play
3)McCormack has so much potential
4) i truely hope that that is all that happens
5) i think if it were just KU, it would be different..but with so many schools i cant see them uniformally punishing every school the same

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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David Klamm

Regarding De Sousa -

The NCAA is going to have to be pretty sure that his handler took money and that Silvio knew about it. Right now, all we have is a he said - he said event as far as the Adidas handler and Silvio's handler.

Silvio wasn't an early entry, he just happened to finish HS in December and decided he didn't want to wait until Fall 2018 to play. Silvio did KU a favor, the NCAA did their job.

There is no lack of institutional control if all of these events happened outside of the KU campus. It hasn't even been established that what Preston's mom or Jackson's mom were alleged to have done was illegal. Both mothers are running AAU teams and Duke isn't sweating that Marvin Bagley's parents were raking in the money while running his AAU team.

I'll worry when the FBI decides they are going to hand over all of it's investigative records to the NCAA (not a guarantee) and the NCAA starts accusing KU of something.

I'm about 95% confident that Bill Self and KU have already done their own investigation into Silvio and his handler and have or will present their findings to the NCAA long before next school year.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

more than likely the FBI is going to hand over its findings to the NCAA..why take that risk ? Silvio needs to sit until things are cleared up fully

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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David Klamm

Just as long as we are clear that an FBI investigation and NCAA investigation are two very different things. The FBI doesn't care one bit about NCAA violations so just because they find something that is against the law (like tax evasion) it doesn't mean a University broke an NCAA rule. If a University has a coach tied to the FBI investigation that maniipulated money than I can see the concern for that University. To date, KU hasn't had that problem, so why should KU punish themselves. If KU believed that Silvio was unikely to be eligible next year then he would already be on his way to another school or overseas (Jahvon Quinerly was commited to Arizona and believed tied to Adidas money and decommited and is now at Villanova and nobody is questioning whether or not he will be eligible to play next season. See Nassir Little at UNC for another example).

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Craig Carson

it doesnt exactly matter to the NCAA if a University itself is tied..as long as a player, family, guardian is involved, then the NCAA could still use that to rule him ineligible..I do think KU should avoid any penalty, but until everything is clear, I still wouldnt play him

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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David Klamm

Clear form an FBI stanpoint or NCAA or both? The thing is the hearings for the fBI are only tentatively set to start this coming October. Who knows how long that lasts and only when the trial is over will the NCAA get thier opportunity to look at whatever information the FBI decides to hand over to them. The NCAA can't possibly punish every kid that is rumored to be tied to an FBI source without even knowing if they are guilty or not. There is a reason that a relatively spotless program like Villanova is planning to start Quinerly at PG next season. He is potentially way dirtier than DeSousa because he was recruited by an Arizona coach that has been indicted. Maybe I'm just an optimist but unless something else comes up I'm guessing a worst case scenario is DeSousa has to sit a few games and plays the rest of the season. Bill Self isn't going to say anything but I would be stunned if all the information that KU has on DeSousa isn't already sitting in the hands of the NCAA. When DeSousa announces he is leaving KU is when I will believe he isn't playing.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Michael Sillman

Great decision by Azubuike. Based on his leap during this past season, I see no reason why he can’t push his way into the first round next year.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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greg robinson

This is gonna be fun!

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Kenneth Johnson

Well, it won't be fun as long as the NCAA is involved. Remember what they did to KU last season, by never coming to a decision on the Billy Preston situation? The NCAA Committee delayed all Fall and then they went on a five week vacation during the Christmas holiday, after which they delayed again, causing the Preston family to finally bail out. That likely cost the Jayhawks the national title, not to mention that they screwed up Preston's career.

And the DeSousa situation is likely still pending, and I wouldn't be too surprised if the NCAA does the same thing again this coming season.

Something has to be done to force the NCAA to make eligibility decisions BEFORE the season when possible. Otherwise, they should have to make in-season decisions ASAP.

Ken Johnson (KU MS '70)

Author of Kansas University Basketball Legends (2013) and More University of Kansas Basketball Legends (2014), both published by the History Press and available at KU Book Stores, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Shannon Gustafson

While I agree with the overall message, the NCAA did not delay Preston all Fall. They were waiting for KU to submit everything they needed to make a decision. KU didn't do that until about a week before Christmas. So it was KU who was on the clock for the whole first semester.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Barry Weiss

I agree with Shannon. The NCAA has its problems, but Preston created his own mess, not the other way around. My wild guess is that Preston/mom/KU were waiting to see if Preston/Mom could pay back the money they took. Given it was so much, that never happened and no way the NCAA was going to clear him with all that money impermissibly given. So my wild guess was that KU was waiting on the Prestons to cough up the cash and ask for a penalty of time already held out. When it became clear the Prestons could not return the money, it was just a done deal. All my wild guess.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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David Robinett

Has Dok ever played any offensive line?? 🤔

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jay Scott

He's too smart to play a game that soon won't exist because of its brain damage victims.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Tony Bandle

Flag football, anyone? With this ban on civil protests by the players, the NFL owners are unconsciously lining up a scoped ,30-06 on the "Golden Goose",

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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Jay Scott

The players are cooking their own goose. McDonald's employees are smart enough to know better than to intentionally alienate customers.
NFL players, not so much.

4 months, 3 weeks ago

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