Udoka Azbuike: Junior Primer

A novice to the game, Udoka Azubuike has made short work of the very challenging basketball endeavor and now has his sites set on long-term success.

How he got here

In the case of Udoka Azubuike, the story begins with the fact that he has played basketball for only three years. A native of Nigeria, he nevertheless has taken his development seriously and already impressed observers coast to coast.

Of course, impressing coaches doesn’t require too much work when you’re 6-10, 275 pounds. Azubuike clearly possesses big-time physical gifts, yet he’s more than a big body due to his increasing confidence and naturally competitive style.

Everything about Azubuike’s style is rugged

Azubuike first made a mark on the EYBL circuit last spring. Prepping at Jacksonville (Fla.) Potter’s House, he attended the Sacramento EYBL opener and established himself as an aggressive, hard-working center.

His reputation grew quickly and he earned invitations to the Elite 100 Camp as well as the NBPA Top 100 Camp last summer. That week in Charlottesville, Va., he listed serious interest from Kentucky, Florida, Florida State, Duke, Kansas, Georgetown and others.

For a guy toting around the stigma of being unskilled, Azubuike certainly was productive. In 16 games with Nike Team Florida, he averaged 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game against competition a class ahead of him. He shot 72 percent from the field — yes, that’s 72 percent — and thus obviously made the most of his chances.

To 2015. …

Azubuike is not only a very big young athlete — he’s a true center. In interview after interview, he has spoken to his desire to play the role of a traditional big man, and to be recruited accordingly.

As he told me last fall, "I want a school that uses their big men right, just a school that suits my style of play."

And “right” in this context means they want their big men to be big. As you can deduce from his shooting percentage with NTF last year, Azubuike does the overwhelming majority of his work at the rim. He wants to dunk everything and will attempt dunks even when actually finishing them may not be realistic.

He harbors zero ambitions of becoming a stretch and seems to almost scoff at his more modern prototypes.

Azubuike set foot into the lion’s den earlier this season. He went head to head against super sophomore DeAndre Ayton — possibly the best prospect in high school basketball, regardless of class — and delivered 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Potter’s House to a narrow victory.

His desire to compete ranks alongside size and strength as his top attributes, and in combination it’s easy to understand why he ranks No. 26 in the class.

Azubuike could make another jump up if he can diversify his offense. It’s great that he racks up the dunks, but as he progresses he won’t always be able to simply push defenders out of the way. Developing a jump hook and other post moves would give him more options, and he also needs to improve his free throw shooting. He shot 98 free throws in his 16 games with NTF last year, but he made only 49 (50 percent).

Still, given his newness to the sport and enthusiasm for fulfilling a role that increasingly fewer big men desire to fill, Azubuike projects as unique and highly effective performer for the next level.

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