In KU practice, Udoka Azubuike is guarded by a football player
If this is the only season James Sosinski plays for the Kansas basketball team, he will have a few lasting memories: the four points he scored at Allen Fieldhouse against Omaha, this current run to the Final Four, and the bruises.
So many bruises.
“Right here,” Sosinski, a redshirt sophomore, said while pointing at his right bicep. “A consistent bruise throughout the year, just always staying. I guess that was right where his elbow just hits me on the post-up.”
The elbow Sosinski's referring to belongs to Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ 7-foot, 280-pound center, who is one of college basketball’s most physically dominant players. Ever since Sosinski walked onto the KU basketball team in December, he has been the primary defender on Azubuike in practice. The challenge has led to blue marks all over Sosinski’s body, including most recently around his legs, which have banged against the brace Azubuike has worn since spraining his left MCL.
Sosinski, who played basketball in junior college and had a scholarship offer to play the sport for Washington State, has only logged 8 minutes this season. But he has played an important role for Kansas. At 6-foot-7 and 250 lbs., he is the only man capable of pushing Azubuike around in the post, and head coach Bill Self has called him the Jayhawks' best defender on the star center.
“James gives bruises, too,” said assistant coach Norm Roberts, who added that coaches instructed Sosinski to stop “the pushing and shoving" in the post while Azubuike combats his knee injury.
Even with that direction, practices are still a bit more challenging for Azubuike than they were before the walk-on joined the Jayhawks. The center from Nigeria said “it was always two steps and I’m at the basket” before a football player started defending him. Now he faces a strong defender almost every day.
"That helps me during games playing against bigger people, because in practice I'm always used to playing against him," Azubuike said on Thursday in KU's locker room, where a swarm of reporters surrounded him — some even spilling into the space in front of Sosinski's locker.
The two men met during Sosinski's first week on campus, and he was so impressed by the center’s imposing figure that he felt compelled to call his father about the experience. He knew when he joined the Jayhawks that Azubuike would be strong, but he didn’t know just how difficult he would be to stop.
During one of Sosinski’s first practices with the Kansas, he thought he had pushed Azubuike far enough away from the hoop to stop him from scoring. But then Self told Azubuike to rise for a dunk.
Azubuike didn’t finish the slam, but he came close enough to make an impression on Sosinski, who realized then that his job was going to be even harder than he once thought. He said basketball practices against Azubuike feel just as tiresome as football practices, even if there’s no tackling.
“Your body is drained,” Sosinski said. “You’re ready to go to sleep.”
Speaking of football, Sosinski —who redshirted as a tight end last fall — recently received a good luck text from Kansas football coach David Beaty. This could be the tight end’s only NCAA tournament. He said he’s not sure whether he will be part of the Jayhawks basketball team again next season. Coaches will have to ask him back.
Even if they don’t, he'll stay busy. He will join KU’s spring football practices once this basketball season ends.
After working himself back into basketball shape, being part of the whirlwind of the NCAA Tournament and taking beatings in the post from Azubuike, Sosinski is looking forward to three weeks off in the summer.
“That,” he said, “will be a nice break.”