Jayhawks C Azubuike withdraws from draft, will return for junior year
LAWRENCE, Kan. — The national title aspirations of Kansas got a big lift on Wednesday.
A 7-foot, 280-pound lift.
Udoka Azubuike announced he was withdrawing from the NBA draft shortly before the deadline, choosing to return for his junior season with the Jayhawks rather than risk not getting selected.
The big man from Nigeria started 34 games last season, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds, and shot a nation-leading 77 percent from the field. But Azubuike is a traditional back-to-the-basket big man, and many scouts have wondered how his skill set transfers to the NBA.
The league’s up-tempo pace and the value placed on big men who can shoot from outside go against his strengths, and developing any kind of outside shot will likely be Azubuike’s emphasis next season.
“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,” Azubuike said in a statement. “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.”
The Jayhawks lost their top three scorers in Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman from the team that won its 14th straight Big 12 title and reached the Final Four last season. They also lost junior guard Lagerald Vick, who like Newman declared for the draft and signed with an agent.
Azubuike did not hire representation, allowing him to withdraw by Wednesday’s deadline.
His return is important given the uncertain status of Silvio de Sousa, whose name has been connected with the FBI investigation into adidas. Even though Kansas has not been named in the investigation, nobody is quite sure whether there will be any discipline handed down in the case.
Despite all the losses from last season, Kansas is expected to be a national title contender given its stellar recruiting class and a bevy of high-level transfers who sat out last season.
High-scoring brothers Dedric Lawson and K.J. Lawson were often the best players in practice after they transferred from Memphis, and Cal transfer Charlie Moore provides a veteran floor general.
The recruiting class is headlined by three McDonald’s All-Americans in 6-foot-10 forward David McCormack, point guard Devon Dotson and shooting guard Quenton Grimes.
Throw in returning players such as Mitch Lightfoot and Marcus Garrett and the Jayhawks are loaded.
“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision to return,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “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.”