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ESPN 100 No. 22 center Udoka Azubuike committed to Kansas on ESPNU's Recruiting Nation Thursday night, picking the Jayhawks over North Carolina and Florida State. Here's what he'll bring to KU:
Why he committed: "This was a very tough decision but I fell in love with the team when I saw them play," Azubuike told ESPN. "I was very comfortable with coach Bill Self, assistant coach Norm Roberts and the entire coaching staff on my visit."
What he brings: Azubuike brings a huge and dominating low-post presence. He is powerful above-the-rim finisher and a two-hand snatching rebounder in his area as well as a fast-improving low post scorer. Azubuike's jump-hook, drop-steps and face-and-attack game in the lane are improving rapidly ,and should continue to develop under the tutelage of Self and his staff. Defensively, Azubuike is a good on-ball shot-blocker and a capable low-post position defender.
How he fits: The Jayhawks have been recruiting frontcourt players the entire 2016 recruiting cycle. They added athletic power forward Mitchell Lightfoot who can block shots, finish above the rim and step out to hit the open three and stretch the defense -- and will be a great complement to Azubuike. With the departure of senior power forward Perry Ellis who is the Jayhawks' best frontcourt scoring threat in addition to power forwards Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor, plenty of playing time is available. Cheick Diallo is a potential one-and-done in the frontcourt as well. Azubuike and Lightfoot should be able to fill frontcourt holes and add quality depth to a group that includes forwards Carlton Bragg and Landon Lucas (and potentially Diallo).
Who he reminds us of: Azubuike brings to mind a few NBA players who are very similar in size, strength and potential productivity. Azubuike is very similar in size and movement to former NBA journeymen center DeSagana Diop, . His ability to dunk and rebound in traffic with great power and authority recall former Philadelphia 76ers great, the late Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins. Azubuike's ability to defend in the low post, protect the rim and finish with power evoke a much larger version of Joel Anthony of the Detroit Pistons.
Here's a quick Q-and-A with Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi on KU's newest commit, 6-foot-11 center and 27th-ranked player Udoka Azubuike.
Q: You're mentioning more of a power game with him. Does that remind you of anybody you've talked about in the past? Maybe Cliff Alexander?
A: He's different than Cliff. Cliff is much quicker, not nearly as big. I guess certainly in terms of how they score, Cliff was similar in that they both appear to be somewhat limited offensively at this stage. But he just takes up so much more space than Cliff that ... I don't want to compare him to the guy Missouri used to have, Kevin Young, because everyone's going to groan.
But sizewise, he's like that kind of big dude. So I don't really know a good person to compare him to.
Q: But basically you're saying a true center type?
A: He is a back-to-the-basket guy all the way.
Q: Big picture, can you tell me what this does for KU's recruiting? I know Self has wanted to fill in with big men since they will lose so many after this season.
A: I think landing multiple big men was very important to them, and I think they wanted to make sure that at least one of them was the kind of guy they could see coming in and making an immediate impact. I think they feel like Udoka can do that. Mitch Lightfoot is a guy who's going to make an impact on some level too, but he's got a ways to go physically in terms of getting stronger, but he's certainly energetic and has some skill to him.
I won't be surprised if they continue to pursue guys like Thon Maker and (No. 16) Marques Bolden and (No. 20) Jarrett Allen, but now that they've got one guy in the fold, it takes a little bit of the pressure off, making sure that they get one of those guys. And then obviously, (No. 1) Josh Jackson (guard) is the top guy on their board now.
Earlier this month, Azubuike, who is ranked No. 22 overall in the ESPN 100, was named to the Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All American Game. He’s averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds a game this season.
This past summer, Azubuike helped the Georgia Stars claim the Nike Peach Jam title, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game.
His summer dominance led to his peers giving him the Toughest Defensive Assignment trophy in the USA Today High School Sports AAU Awards and Superlatives.
His addition to the KU program not only gives KU an exciting prospect to look forward to in the future, but also someone Jayhawk fans can salivate over right now. That's because, if it were allowed, Azubuike absolutely would be able to suit up and help this program today. He might not be a star, mind you (we've learned our lesson there, right?) but with that frame, he certainly would help.
At 6-11, 260, he's considerably bigger than anything the Jayhawks have down low today, standing an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier than the Jayhawks' biggest body (6-10, 240-pound Landen Lucas).
Beyond that, Azubuike plays a style that none of KU's current players seem to be able to play. In short, he likes to dunk and he likes to dunk very, very hard.
Like most of you, I have not actually seen Azubuike play. But I have watched plenty of film on him and have been impressed by how well he moves. Sure, in these highlights, you're mostly treated to an endless buffet of Azubuike dunking the ball with authority and anger — and let's face it, KU could use some of that — but in some of the clips (and even when you're watching him hurt the rim) you can see how well this guy moves on his feet, how well he runs the floor, how good his balance is and how you could see him turning into a handful in the paint with the proper training.
He figures to get that and more at Kansas and his arrival will be one of the more exciting things to look forward to before the 2016-17 season.
Azubuike almost violently went through DeAndre Ayton early on. If that names rings a bell, it should. Ayton is a 7-footer rated by pretty much everyone as the best sophomore in the country.
“I took it personal,” Azbuike said of the matchup with Ayton. “My coach told me it was going to be a big game today. I just took it like it was my opportunity to prove myself. I think I did pretty good. We won the game. I’m happy we won. That’s the most important thing. I did my best.”
Azubuike is 15. He’s played organized ball for just over two years. He grew up wanting to play soccer, but because of his size, was implored to give basketball a shot.
He watched some Michael Jordan DVDs and went to some clinics in his home country. A coach with ties to former Potter’s House Christian coach Steven McLaughlin got the ball rolling. Azubuike moved in with Harry and Donna Coxsone (Harry was with him Sunday) and he joined Nike Team Florida’s AAU team.
While Ayton is a high-post, finesse player, Azubuike is a bull who plays with a sneer. He loves to use his forearm on backs and his dunks — he had a half-dozen Sunday — are wicked knee-swingers. His longest shots come from the free-throw line.
“I always wanted to be a center,” Azubuike said.
Azubuike took over in overtime. He said he felt Ayton tiring. The Lions’ last points came on an Azubuike slam.
“My teammates really depend on me, so I’ve got to step up my game,” Azbuike said. “I’m giving it all my strength.”
When he was introduced, Azubuike made old-fashioned muscles, Popeye-style. With him, it’s all about aggression and intimidation.
“I do that sometimes,” said Azubuike with a grin. “When I dunk I try to send a message that I’m right here. I like competition. I liked going against the big dude (Ayton). It was fun.”
Naples Daily News
The Jacksonville, Florida Potter’s House Christian senior has been called, “massive” and “bruising,” by Scott Phillips of nbcsports.com; a “huge get literally and figuratively” by Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog.com; and a guy “who attempts to punish the rim with slam dunks each and every chance he gets,” by Eric Bossi of Rivals.com.
This rim-rattler, who recently was selected to play in the 2016 McDonald’s All-America game, isn’t afraid to rule down low, that is for sure.
“Pretty much,” Azubuike told the Journal-World on Thursday night, asked if he has the most fun trying to rip the goal down on forceful slams. “It’s just part of me. It’s just what I do. That’s just part of my game. I don’t lift. It’s just natural. It comes natural.”
…“I need to work on my hook shot, going to my left and right, pretty much work on running the floor,” Azubuike said. “I feel very much inside of me I can go in and compete. I feel really confident in myself. I can go to Kansas and really be productive.
“It’s been a rough journey,” he added of traveling from Nigeria to a new land. “Coming over here ... the transition wasn’t easy. Through the process I got to learn the game more. I can go for everything. I’m real thankful.”
…Asked what KU fans will like about Azubuike the most, Coxsome said: “He brings a lot of energy. He loves the spotlight. He doesn’t shy away from it and he’s going to work hard.”
Azubuike believes he’ll fit in well here. “The love for the game is there. I’m living my dreams,” he said.
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”