Udoka Azubuike made the correct call in deciding to return to the University of Kansas for a junior season, two front-office representatives of NBA teams told The Star on Thursday.
“I mean it was a no-brainer,” one unnamed NBA talent evaluator said of the 7-foot Nigeria native’s removing his name from the league’s 2018 draft pool on Wednesday. NBA rules prohibit employees from speaking publicly regarding the skills of college and high school players.
“He needs to develop a little skill-set. He needs to learn how to defend outside the mid-range area. With this small-ball stuff now, we expect you to get out on the perimeter and guard a little bit. The way the league is going, you have to show you can defend the pick and roll and protect that rim. This is going to be good for him. His overall stock will go up before the (2019) draft."
Another NBA front-office employee emphatically agreed the 275-pound Azubuike, who recently performed well at the NBA Combine, will benefit by staying in school one more season.
“(It’s the) best move,” the NBA official said. “Hopefully he can get in really good shape because he does have redeemable qualities at the next level, but needs to get in elite shape in order to stay on the court.”
Some believe comments such as these may have made it easy for the 18-year-old Azubuike to remove his name from the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s not been mentioned in any of the mock drafts.
“It was a hard decision,” said Azubuike’s mentor, Harry Coxsome, who believes Azubuike would have been either a late first-round or certain second-round pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. “To be honest, it’d be tough trying to be an 18-year-old kid and make an adult decision like this. Looking at all the options … it’s hard.”
The difficulty of reaching a decision led to “mixed emotions” in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday at the Coxsome residence, where Azubuike made his final decision to remove his name from the draft pool.
“It’s been his dream since he got on a plane (to Florida) from Nigeria (in ninth grade),” Coxsome said of Azubuike’s desire to play in the NBA. “I do want to see him go after his dreams, what he wants to do. The season he had (13.0 points on a school-record 77 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds per game but just 41.3 percent from line) … I felt like he could have been higher as far as being on people’s draft boards. Kansas is a great place to be. He’ll develop more over this year. I have (a) mixed feeling, but I think a good feeling.”
Coxsome — who said Azubuike would certainly work on “rim protection, rebounding, developing a little bit more of a mid-range jumper” next season — was asked if there were any negatives regarding Azubuike returning to school.
“I’m not going to say negatives. It’s a bunch of unknowns,” Coxsome stated. “Kansas will have a great team next year. It’s a lot of unknowns going from playing with a point guard (Devonté Graham) who has been on the team the last four years, knows the system and what coach wants, to players that haven’t played on that team — with the new point guard that transferred in (Charlie Moore) or a freshman (Devon Dotson). It’s a bunch of unknowns.
“There are a lot of guys (in frontcourt). With the exception of Mitch (Lightfoot), he’s (Azubuike) not played with them yet. He’s been around the Lawson brothers (Dedric, K.J.), but not had the opportunity to share the floor with them.”
KU is bringing in McDonald’s All-America power forward David McCormack to go with Lightfoot, Dedric Lawson and Silvio De Sousa at the power forward position. K.J. Lawson can play guard or forward.
“It is a typical Bill Self team,” Coxsome said. “If you look over the years, he’s had big frontcourts. This one may be one of his biggest. He has more depth. It definitely will be enjoyable to watch.
"Last year Doke had to manage his time wisely. He had no backup at his position. Now Silvio played great down the stretch and Mitch, but for the most part, he (Azubuike) was the key. Now you don’t have to worry if you get two fouls there’s nobody to back you up. You’ll see a totally different change in the way he plays defensively.”
NBA Draft notes
Former KU guard Malik Newman worked out for the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. Newman and former KU guard Svi Mykhailiuk will work out for the Utah Jazz on Friday, writes NBA writer Cody Taylor of USA Today. … Former KU guard Graham and former KU forward Billy Preston worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. Preston will attend a pre-draft workout with the New York Knicks “at some point in the next two weeks,” tweets Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic.