Talk of being 'a late first-rounder' didn't keep KU's Azubuike in 2018 NBA Draft
By Gary Bedore email@example.com
Representatives of unnamed NBA teams told Kansas center Udoka Azubuike that if he kept his name in the 2018 NBA Draft pool, there was a good chance he’d emerge as a first-round pick in the June 21 proceedings in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I didn’t speak to a lot of teams, but I didn’t have an agent. It was pretty much just me talking to the teams, a few teams (at NBA Combine). The few teams I talked to were like, ‘Yeah you were going to be in the first round, probably a late first-rounder.’ It was basically just my decision what to do next, making the right choice for me,” said Azubuike, KU’s 7-foot junior center from Nigeria, on Sunday afternoon.
He spoke to reporters after signing autographs for 2 1/2 hours at the second session of the Bill Self basketball camp in Allen Fieldhouse.
Azubuike declared for the 2018 draft without an agent April 20 following a sophomore season in which he averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. Then after working out for the Los Angeles Lakers on May 7 and attending the May 17-18 NBA Combine in Chicago, ultimately removed his name from the draft on May 30.
“Some of the teams were like, ‘Once you come back (to college) and play that year you’ve got a chance to be in the lottery,’ because of my frame and my athletic ability,” Azubuike said of possibly being a top 14 overall pick in 2019 following his junior campaign at KU. “(They said) there’s not a lot of bigs this big and have the athletic ability I have.
“Some teams were like, ‘Once you come back, you will be a lottery (pick), will really be up there (in 2019).' I had to think about all that stuff, kind of sit down, meditate and make my decision,” Azubuike added.
The teams told him he needed to work on some things — enough things that it made sense to return to KU and play for a team that many analysts are picking preseason No. 1 in the country.
“Pretty much they say they like my work ethic and everything, the way I run the floor and my athletic ability and all that. They said I wasn’t in bad shape, I just needed to get in way better shape, great shape,” said Azubuike, who added he weighs about 270 pounds with a goal of playing around 260 next season.
“The NBA pretty much told me that, the bigs, they run a lot. Running to the rim, posting up. With my strength and athletic ability just running to the front of the basket is going to help me a lot.”
The NBA also wants to “see me block shots,” Azubuike added. “They know on my help defense I am good at it. As big as I am I can really slide my feet a lot, shuffle my feet. On defense, run back on defense. They watched me and said I was pretty good at that.
“(It’s also) rebounding the ball a lot. Setting good screens, real fast screens and running to the basket. It’s pretty much stuff I can capitalize on and work on. I’ve been doing it. I just need to do it way more.”
Azubuike shot a school-record 77 percent from the field last season but hit just 41.3 percent of his free throws.
“I will keep working on it with my coaches every day in practice,” Azubuike said of free-throw shooting. “Just keep working and getting better.”
He’ll be working out with coaches up to four hours a week all June in accordance with NCAA rules and also play in unsupervised pick-up games with teammates.
What he learned in declaring for the draft without an agent can only help him now, he stated.
“It was (valuable),” he said. “I gained a lot of experience working out with the NBA teams, going to the combine. That really helped me out a lot.”