University of Kansas

A former KU center analyzes the game of Jayhawks big man Udoka Azubuike

Former Kansas Jayhawks center Mark Randall, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated ahead of the 1991 Final Four, likes what he sees from the man who's breaking his school single-season field-goal record, current KU center Udoka Azubuike.
Former Kansas Jayhawks center Mark Randall, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated ahead of the 1991 Final Four, likes what he sees from the man who's breaking his school single-season field-goal record, current KU center Udoka Azubuike. Sports Illustrated and The Star

Mark Randall doesn’t mind seeing his single-season school-record shooting percentage of .646 slip to second on Kansas’ all-time list.

A huge KU fan — he recently completed a five-year term as an elected member of the board of directors of the KU Alumni Association — the former third-team All-American realizes Udoka Azubuike’s .772 accuracy is worthy of all-time acclaim.

“I’m happy for him,” Randall, who leads the community ambassador program for the Denver Nuggets, said in a phone conversation. “Seventy-seven percent … going back to my days, I’ve never heard of those numbers before in my life."

Randall's .646 mark in 1988-89 (201 of 311 shooting) barely topped his .643 standard of 1990-91 — the year KU finished runner-up to Duke at the Final Four.

Azubuike’s shooting has helped the Jayhawks advance to the 2018 Final Four this weekend in San Antonio.

“Like the cliche says, records are made to be broken," said Randall, 50. "It’s something to be proud of. With Doke, he does it the right way. He gets it and tries to smash it through the basket. That’s what bigs are told to do.

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"Any time you have a big guy that size, you tell him his whole life, ‘Get it, dunk it.’ It’s an automatic two points."

Azubuike, a 7-foot, 280-pound sophomore from Nigeria who has made 207 of 268 shots, leads the country in field-goal percentage.

He’s also set to become the Big 12’s all-time single-season percentage leader. Missouri’s Ricardo Ratliffe hit 69.3 percent of his shots in 2011-12. The NCAA record holder is Devontae Cacok of UNC-Wilmington, who hit 80 percent in 2016-17.

“He does a good job hammering it through the basket,” Randall said of Azubuike.

KU coach Bill Self loves the power exhibited by the big man.

“He doesn’t think ‘cute’ at all. He thinks, ‘Try to tear the rim off the backboard,’’’ Self said.

The parents of Svi Mykhailiuk, Udoka Azubuike and Silvio De Sousa will be traveling long distances to see their sons play in the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio.

Azubuike, who has 118 dunks this season, says his goal is to basically annihilate the rim while ripping the ball through the goal.

“Coach emphasizes we’ve got to work through the bigs,” Azubuike said of his work and accuracy in the paint. “Once the guards get me the ball, I dunk it. Maybe one bounce and dunk it. I play with so much aggressiveness and intensity. It’s what I do. I try to dunk it.”

Randall scored in a somewhat different manner.

OK, a much different manner.

“I liked to run the floor,” said Randall, a 6-8, 235-pounder who played in the NBA for four seasons. “Not that I can say all my shots were jump shots. I was trying to outrun big guys. It worked for me.

"Coach (Roy) Williams … he was so adamant that big guys run sets of threes — our primary move, secondary move and countermove. That was ingrained. And with Danny (Manning) kicking my butt two years in practice, he passed on the baby jump-hook to me. I used that to my advantage.

“Between layups and jump hooks … I think I had one three-pointer in my career. It’s not like I was hanging out on the perimeter like tall kids, stretch fours, shooting all over."

Randall realizes that Azubuike is a true center who does all his work near the basket. And his predecessor likes the concept, even though true centers are hard to find these days.

“I know he is active in there,” Randall said. “He does work to get position. What’s he average? Sixteen, 17? (Actually, 13.1 points a game.) The game has changed where the guy inside is becoming extinct, basically. A lot of the games I watched this year, he’s working his butt off trying to get the ball; they are outside wheeling around waiting for somebody to step out and set a pick.

“I think it’d be a much better game all around if they go back to inside-out basketball,” Randall added, referring to college and NBA games in general. “To be honest, it’s tough to watch. A kid that big commands space, he is fighting in there. You see him kind of let down (when the ball doesn’t arrive). I’d be the same way, too, if I was fighting my butt off and not seeing the ball. He has to find ways to get the ball and touch it.”

Kansas coach Bill Self addresses the media upon arriving in San Antonio for the Final Four.

Azubuike contributes 7.1 rebounds per contest entering the Final Four.

“Unfortunately, when you are an outside shooting team, the rebounds go long. It takes him out, too,” Randall said. “You bring the guards in, they’ll have higher rebound percentages, getting the long misses and bounces.”

Azubuike averages 7.7 shots a game.

“He does very well for himself the way the game is now,” Randall said. “This is not meant to slam Bill.

"It starts at the pro level now, at the college level, and is starting to get to the high school level. It used to be you built your offense around inside/out. It’s evolved to where now the inside guy barely touches it. I’ve heard Bill say at halftime, ‘We’ve got to go through Doke more.’ I’m like, yeah, but the fact he has to say that makes me wonder, ‘What is the process?’ It used to be the norm. If Doke is averaging 14 points a game and shooting 77 percent, that means he’s touching it eight or nine times a game. To me, he should average around 20 (points). The only way to average that is if you are touching the ball more.”

Randall returns to the Kansas City area yearly with former teammate Jeff Gueldner to run an annual summer camp for youths that teaches shooting, among other things. He hopes there’s a place in the NBA for Azubuike, who likely needs to improve his free-throw percentage (currently quite low, at 41.3 percent or 45 of 109) and perhaps extend his range a bit to be an effective player in the pros.

“I think he’s a developing player,” said Randall, who still holds KU’s all-time field-goal percentage mark of 62 percent. Randall hit 643 of 1,037 shots in his career. Azubuike is at 75.6 percent. He’s made 229 of 303 shots in two seasons, needing 500 attempts to be considered someday for that career shooting mark.

“He has some nice moves down there, a nice little jump hook," Randall said. "If he goes NBA, I think he’ll be a guy who will be a G-League player from the start, where he’s developing. It comes back to, ‘Are you going to work with the guy on his drop step, reading defenses, a turnaround jumper with somebody in your face, free throws?’ There’s development to do in what has become a perimeter game now."

KU players arrive in San Antonio for the NCAA Tournament Final Four on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.