Udoka Azubuike entered his name in the 2018 NBA Draft on April 20 with every intention of leaving the University of Kansas to play basketball at the highest level.
“When he decided he was declaring he felt he was ready to go,” Azubuike’s mentor, Harry Coxsome, told The Star from his home in Jacksonville, Fla., where the 7-foot Azubuike on Wednesday announced his decision to remove his name from the June 21 draft and return to KU for his junior season.
“His conversations with his coaching staff and conversations he had with his family, feedback with what he heard (about his draft position from NBA officials), that all played a part in his final decision.”
Azubuike — who received feedback from NBA personnel after faring well at the two-day NBA combine in Chicago and after an individual workout with the Los Angeles Lakers — ultimately “went back and forth with the decision” according to Coxsome before declaring Wednesday afternoon several hours before the 10:59 p.m. Central time deadline.
“When it came down to making that decision it weighed on him,” Coxsome said. “In my opinion, it was to raise his draft stock,” he added of Azubuike's reason for returning.
Coxsome said he’s convinced Azubuike would have been “a late-first round or second-round pick” in the 2018 draft.
“I think he has mixed feelings, not happy but not disappointed,” Coxsome said of the 18-year-old Azubuike, who has lived with the Coxsome family since coming to the United States from Nigeria in ninth grade. “In his mind it’s business now: ’I have this behind me, now I’ll continue trying to get to where I want to go.’’’
Azubuike — he averaged 13.0 points on a school-record 77 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds as a sophomore — is content to return to KU where Coxsome said he’ll work on “developing little bit more of a mid-range jumper.”
"I received good feedback from many sources around the NBA over the last month but in the end, after discussing with my family and coaches, we decided it would be in my best interest to return to Kansas for my junior year," Azubuike said Wednesday in a release. "I want to thank the people in the NBA who gave me this opportunity. I believe it was an important step as I chase my dream to play basketball at the highest level. I'm looking forward to next season and can't wait to get to work with my teammates.”
Azubuike scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a pair of scrimmages at the NBA Combine.
"We're all very excited about Udoka making the decision to return for his junior year," said KU coach Bill Self, who said Azubuike “had two really good days” at the combine.
“We supported him declaring and investigating, which I think was a smart move. It was certainly a move that was handled exactly as the rule was intended. He wanted to find out more information on what the NBA franchises thought of him and he was able to accomplish that in many ways. The feedback that he got and that we received was that he's definitely improved and NBA personnel think very favorably of him. He certainly performed well at the combine, but the information he received led him to the decision to return to school.
"I know that he's excited to come back and to be a part of what could be a really nice team," Self added. "Certainly, I'm looking forward to his role and production increasing dramatically as he will be one of the most experienced players returning.”
Coxsome said he did not think Azubuike’s poor free throw shooting (41.3 percent) was a factor in his decision to return to Kansas.
“I don’t think the free throws weighed in as much as people think it did,” Coxsome said. “If you look at some of the great centers, Shaq (O’Neal) and Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan, a lot of guys don’t shoot that well from the line. They do other things that surpass that where you don’t have to worry as much about free throws. I don’t think it had a bearing on his decision.”
The decision, Coxsome said, was made “between last night and this morning.”
“There are things to consider, draft position, guaranteed contracts, how much money will you make this year versus next year when it’ll improve? He knows the money will be there, all the nuances will be there. At the end of the day he knows, ‘I’m good regardless,’’’ Coxsome said.
Azubuike’s decision to return leaves KU with one scholarship to give in the recruiting Class of 2018. KU coach Bill Self has said he would either bring in a prolific outside shooter if one was available or save the scholarship for the Class of 2019.
As far as the 2018-19 frontcourt, KU returns Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot. Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson is eligible to play in games after practicing last season at KU in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. Freshman David McCormack is a McDonald’s All-American expected to be an immediate contributor.