Kansas basketball center Udoka Azubuike was chosen Big 12 preseason player of the year Wednesday in a vote of the league’s head coaches.
Azubuike, a 7-foot senior from Delta, Nigeria, who played in just nine games a year ago because of injury, earned all-league mention with teammate Devon Dotson, a 6-2 sophomore point guard from Charlotte, North Carolina. Tristan Clark of Baylor, Tyrese Haliburton of Iowa State and Desmond Bane of TCU also made first-team all-Big 12.
Chris Clarke of Texas Tech was chosen preseason newcomer of the year and Oscar Tshiebwe of West Virginia freshman of the year.
Honorable mention all-league honors went to Xavier Sneed (K-State), Kristian Doolittle (Oklahoma), Yor Anei (Oklahoma State), Matt Coleman (Texas), Clarke (Texas Tech), Davide Moretti (Texas Tech), Jahmi’us Ramsey (Texas Tech) and Derek Culver (West Virginia)
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.
KU’s last preseason player of the year was Devonte Graham in 2017-18. Azubuike is ninth player in the Bill Self era to be chosen preseason player of the year in the league.
Azubuike — who tore ligaments in his right hand in early January — averaged 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in limited duty his junior season. He hit 70.5% of his shots — just 34.4% of his free throws.
“During my college years, I’ve been struggling with injuries and stuff. This year I hope will be a different outcome,” Azubuike said. He missed the last 25 games of his freshman season after tearing ligaments in his left hand. As a healthy sophomore, he averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in 36 games.
“I feel I am in great shape. I’ve been working hard. At Boot Camp (conditioning program) I was getting through all the stuff. I feel confident about myself.
“I am excited about the season. I think we have a really good team this year,” Azubuike added. “Obviously, every team wants to win the (NCAA) championship. They want to go to the Final Four. This team, is aiming for that too.”
KU coach Self recently raved about Azubuike’s work this past season. He’s reported to preseason workouts at a career-low 260 pounds.
“His body looks terrific. He’s so much more confident now in large part because he’s in such good physical condition,” Self said of Azubuike, who turned 20-years-old on Sept. 17. “He looks tremendous. He’s more explosive now. He’s having fun, going after balls with reckless abandon which we need him to,” Self added.
Senior forward Mitch Lightfoot said Azubuike has had a “great” preseason camp.
“Just take a look at him. He’s in great shape,” Lightfoot said. “He’s more athletic than I’ve ever seen him. That’s a scary thought. He was pretty athletic before. He’s working his tail off.”
Dotson — he averaged 12.3 points and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman — is one of 20 players on the Bob Cousy Award watch list. The Cousy Award is presented annually to the country’s No. 1 point guard.
“I’ve been in the gym working on all parts of my game, but getting stronger was a focus of mine this summer,” Dotson said recently. “I’ve been working on reading the game and working on the tangibles and on the mental part of basketball.”