UK Recruiting

UK target Udoka Azubuike displays his rim-rattling skills in Lexington Nike game

UK target Udoka Azubuike, 22, drove to the hoop during the Nike EYBL event at KBA on Friday April 24, 2015.
UK target Udoka Azubuike, 22, drove to the hoop during the Nike EYBL event at KBA on Friday April 24, 2015. Herald-Leader

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Bower traveled to Virginia for the first session of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.

The trip amounted to a fact-finding mission for Bower, the senior sports director of the Kentucky Basketball Academy, which is hosting Nike's signature event in Lexington for the first time this weekend.

His first thought was to check the inventory as soon as he returned home.

"We learned that we need to have extra rims on hand. That was my first note," he said. "Because, these are the big boys. You can tell it's the elite of the elite."

It's a good thing the KBA has rims to spare this weekend, because Udoka Azubuike is in town.

The 6-foot-11, 265-pound prospect tested the baskets on the first night of the Nike EYBL. In Friday's opening game, Azubuike was a menace in the post for the Georgia Stars. It seemed like every time he touched the ball in the paint, the possession ended with the backboard rocking.

Late in the game and with the Stars leading by a comfortable margin, Azubuike kept one hand on the rim a little longer than he should have, and the nearest referee whistled him for a technical. It looked for a second as if the basket wasn't going to support the brute force of his slam and follow-through.

It held, but it wouldn't have been the first to come down at the hands of Azubuike.

That happened to a rim during one of his high school games last year.

"It just broke into two," Azubuike said. "It just split. ... Everybody was like, 'Wowww.' It was amazing."

UK started paying attention to the Nigeria native last spring, and his high school coach said that the Wildcats made a scholarship offer after seeing him early in last year's AAU season.

Kenny Payne sat just a few feet away from Azubuike on Friday night, and the UK assistant coach got a close look at some of his most thunderous slams.

Current Wildcats Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress were with Payne, who seemed to give them a couple of that's-how-you-do-it nods when Azubuike finished strong.

"He's so physical and strong and tough inside," said Scout.com's Evan Daniels. "You can't move him off the block, and because of that, he's a really good area rebounder. And you have to love that every time he touches the ball he tries to dunk on you."

Georgia Stars post player Wendell Carter — listed at 6-10 and 250 pounds — is one of those who loves that part of Azubuike's game, judging by the big smile on Carter's face when his teammate's name was mentioned.

"He's just a monster, that's how I'll describe him," Carter said. "If I catch it at the high post and he's asking for it, I'm going to give it to him. Because I know that's two points or they're going to foul him.

"He's a beast, man. That's all I can say."

Azubuike came to the United States a little more than three years ago, and he plays high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla. Though he's considered a top-25 prospect in the class of 2016 by all of the major recruiting services, Azubuike hasn't seriously started his college search.

He mentioned Florida and Florida State as two programs that have expressed continuous interest, and a visit to his high school last year by UK Coach John Calipari left an impression.

Azubuike — no relation to former UK player Kelenna Azubuike — has not yet taken college visits, and he's not sure if he'll get to see UK's campus after the Nike EYBL games wrap up Sunday. The plan is to start visiting schools and get more serious about his recruitment this summer or fall.

The main objective at the moment is to continue to work on his game, which has expanded quite a bit in the past year.

One of the main knocks on Azubuike coming out of his sophomore season was his lack of moves in the post. He could barrel over defenders for highlight-reel dunks, but he often struggled to create offensive opportunities for himself.

That no longer seems to be a problem.

Twice in Friday night's opener, Azubuike used a drop-step spin move to get around an opponent in a post-up situation. The results: Dunk and dunk.

He said his main source of inspiration on the court is fellow Nigerian center Hakeem Olajuwon, one of the greatest post players of all time and a regular Internet search subject for Azubuike.

"I just get on YouTube and I just start watching," he said.

If his post moves continue to catch up with the rest of his game, the result will be scary for anyone trying to keep him away from the rim.

"He's just one of those big, burly, strong dudes," Daniels said. "He just out-toughs you and tries to play physical and punk you on the court."

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