Udoka Azubuike happily accepts all challenges. Whether it’s emigrating to the United States, picking up a basketball for the first time at a relatively late age, or simply doing battle on the hardwood game by game, the young center brings energy and passion to everything he does.
And self-belief. Azubuike competes with a comfort and confidence that’s unusual for international-born prospects. Of course, the fact that he stands 6-10, 275 pounds means he doesn’t often encounter folks who would want him to be uncomfortable.
Azubuike established himself out of the gate in 2014. Playing for Nike Team Florida, he showcased an athletic, bruising style that placed him on the radar of top college programs. Playing up as a rising junior, he competed at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and other events that enabled him to chart his progress versus the national elite.
He hit the road with the Georgia Stars this year, helping to lead the Stars to the prestigious Peach Jam title and ultimate EYBL championship. His recruitment has been more difficult to pin down than most, but he said last month that Florida, Florida State and Kansas were on him hardest.
As one quickly would surmise, his chief source of power is, itself, power. Azubuike is a monstrous center who already has legitimate adult athlete muscle, and as such he’ll be ready to take the floor from day one at the program of his choice.
As strong as he is, however, Azubuike succeeds every bit as much due to his aggression. He’s arguably the most enthusiastic dunker in all of high school basketball, not trying to score points for creativity but just consistently hammering down slam after slam.
He also deserves credit for staying within himself. Azubuike averaged 13 points per game for the Stars this year while shooting 66 percent from the field. That phenomenal efficiency speaks to his desire to excel in his chosen areas — i.e., dunking — and his willingness to accept a role.
The Stars were an oddly composed team. Azubuike was one of three centers who started, also including Wendell Carter and Abdul Ado. But even with all that size scrapping for rebounds, Azubuike hauled down eight boards per contest.
He’s the antithesis of the coddled American superstar that has frustrated college coaches in recent years. Azubuike doesn’t take plays off, runs the floor hard and wants to impact the game physically without necessarily focusing on his own offense. So much of what he does, he takes, rather than what’s handed to him by a guard.
He also blocked two shots per game during the travel season and projects as an outstanding positional defender as he continues to learn that aspect of the game.
Azubuike has a long way to go offensively. He doesn’t yet possess great shooting touch on the interior, is a little tight through his shoulders and thus is far less effective when anywhere except point blank range.
That limitation extends to the free throw line, where he connected on just 45 percent of his attempts with the Stars. It’s great that he goes to the line frequently and puts opponents in foul trouble, but late in a game he could become a target for hack-a-man tactics.
Ultimately, professional scouts will wonder how his game will translate as his peers close the physical gap. While Azubuike always will be strong relative to his opponents, he likely won’t be as physically dominant. Polishing his scoring tools, back to the basket, facing the rim and at the charity stripe, will be critical in achieving his long-term goals.
Azbuike absolutely can contribute on day one at the high-major college level. He possesses the size, strength, above-average athleticism and desire to be an impact performer. Those qualities can take him a long way and remove pressure from teammates, who will be able to focus on scoring while he softens up defenses at the rim.
He may slot as a defensive and dunking specialist for his first couple seasons on campus, hopefully adding wrinkles as he continues to progress. The fact that he’s new to the game is encouraging when projecting his long-term prospects.
To advance to the highest level he’ll need to vastly raise his skills, and for that reason it’s likely he’ll need multiple seasons in college before making a professional jump. But while he learns he should be highly effective for his team in his specific role, and Azubuike’s rate of progress suggests he may be able to smooth out the rough edges to become a more complete performer.
Azubuike ranks No. 30 in the Class of 2016 and could contend for five star status by the time he closes his senior season.