The Kansas basketball staff scored a huge – literally – recruit in Udoka Azubuike. What’s the scouting report on the Nigerian Center?
Udoka Azubuike, a McDonald’s All American and Nike Hoop Summit invitee, joins the Kansas Jayhawks squad as the #4 ranked center in the Top247 Composite. Standing 6’11” and weighing in near 270 pounds, Azubuike is a mammoth prospect that is nowhere close to his full potential yet. We’ll take a look at his strengths and weaknesses below.
Azubuike’s size – and athleticism for that size – is the first thing anyone will notice about him. Standing a full 6’11” and boasting a 7’5″ wingspan, Azubuike carries his 270 pounds very well. He is a naturally strong guy, with a great base of power in his legs and a well-developed upper body for a 16 year old. Committing to Kansas gives him to work on renowned Strength and Conditioning coach Andrea Hudy, something that certainly played a big role in his recruitment.
With his size, though, Azubuike also possesses surprisingly soft hands. Those hands make him a solid rebounder and will help him excel in an offensive system heavily reliant on entry passes from the wing and the high-low. While Azubuike is not a gifted scorer, he is a good finisher at the rim because of his ability to overpower nearly everyone he faces. Whereas a player like Cliff Alexander was also known for this in High School and AAU, but failed to reproduce it at the collegiate level, Azubuike should adapt better. His size will be all but unmatched through most of Kansas’ games, which is something that can’t be said for most center prospects heading to college these days.
On the defensive end, Azubuike should be able to fill a role as a space-eater and defensive rebounder, as well as be a good defender against the few brute-force defenders Kansas will face through the season. Landen Lucas already fills that role as the starter, but having Azubuike on the bench will give Head Coach Bill Self some flexibility in giving Lucas a few more breathers over the course of the year.
While Azubuike’s size, strength, and potential are immense, he does lack a lot of the fundamental tools to make him an instant success at Kansas. He doesn’t yet have a great feel for playing basketball, and it should be expected that he will struggle for a while to understand the offensive and defensive schemes. Kansas experienced the same difficulties in dealing with Cheick Diallo last year, who came to Lawrence with a similar lack of feel and understanding of the game.
Azubuike’s offense is entirely reliant on dunks right now and he has yet to show much consistency on his ability to hit hook shots on the block. He has improved over the course of his high school career, but it likely won’t be until his sophomore or junior years that his offense is able to be relied upon for points. His footwork also needs quite a bit of work, which will hinder his progress early on in Lawrence. As of now, Azubuike has no range on his shooting and is a poor free throw shooter. Expect the Kansas staff to do a major overhaul of his shooting mechanics early in his time there.
Defensively, there is more for the staff to work with as Azubuike possesses the length and athleticism to be a very good post defender and weakside helper. Right now, he gets blocks by virtue of being big, rather than showing good timing or anticipation on defense. Some of that will come with time on the floor as he develops his feel for the game, but much of shot-blocking is natural feel too. As seen with Kansas center Landen Lucas, defending in the paint can be done well without ever developing any shot-blocking ability or feel. Lucas has proven to be an excellent internal defender, and it’s very fair to say Azubuike’s potential on the defensive end surpasses that.
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Azubuike’s stock coming in is about where it should be. The weak 2016 high school class – and it’s dearth of centers – may have inflated his ranking and perception a good bit, but he does have the raw tools and potential to be an elite college center. We would have to recommend you HOLD on Azubuike stock if you had it, as you’ll want to see his progression over the next 18 months before making any decisions.
Azubuike is going to get some serious hype over the next 4-5 months because of his All American status and his lofty ranking, but Kansas fans might want to temper expectations. Expect the big Nigerian to struggle for playing time in his first year in Lawrence.