LAWRENCE — Udoka Azubuike has finally reaped the rewards of his dynamic swan song season.
Azubuike, the 7-foot, 260-pound former Kansas center who in his senior campaign with the Jayhawks fully realized his potential on both ends of the court, was selected No. 27 overall in the NBA Draft on Wednesday night by the Utah Jazz. A fringe draft pick at most projection outlets just a year ago, Azubuike got into the best shape of his career and turned an ultra-productive Year 4 — the Delta, Nigeria, native averaged 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots — into a first-round selection.
Devon Dotson, the Jayhawks' starting point guard from 2018-20, wasn't selected Wednesday but signed with the Chicago Bulls as an undrafted free agent, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
"Doke (Azubuike) I thought went as high as he possibly could. So happy for him. Happy for the organization he went to. I know he was emotional and ecstatic," Self said. "And then you have the total polar opposite with Devon not getting drafted. Visiting with his agent, I’m not sure that’s the worst thing that can happen. I think many times you’re better off not getting drafted if it’s after (pick) 45 or so. ...
"It’s a bittersweet night for us because I can’t believe that there were eight point guards or whatever there were in the draft better than Devon. I mean he was a consensus second-team All-American, played his (butt) off for us. But, it’s not the end. All it is, he’s just going to have to do it the hard way, and sometimes doing it the hard way plays out to be the best way."
Azubuike earned Big 12 player of the year honors as a senior and was also recognized as the nation’s top defender by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He finished his collegiate career with an NCAA-record field goal percentage (74.6%), besting a mark set by 7-5 former UCF center Tacko Fall (2015-19).
Self said Azubuike "without question" would’ve been a top-10 pick 20 years ago.
"But the game has changed so much and you don’t play inside-out as much, you play outside-in, and the way you get the ball to the rim is driving the ball as opposed to throwing it there now and those sorts of things. So there are some things about old-school five men that maybe don’t fit the same way it used to 20 years ago," Self said. "But there’s still always going to be a need for somebody that can defend the post and can certainly anchor a defense during certain stretches of games, especially when your starting center is not in the game. I think Doke can probably develop into that as much as anybody."
Injuries kept Azubuike out of the NCAA Tournament in his freshman and junior years, and the COVID-19 pandemic ended the center’s collegiate career on the eve of the Big 12 Tournament. But Azubuike made the most out of his lone taste of March Madness, anchoring the Jayhawks’ run to the Final Four in San Antonio as a sophomore in 2017-18.
Azubuike was at his best when the Jayhawks needed him the most, a statement that was particularly true in 2019-20. He scored 29 points and blocked four shots in KU's 90-84 overtime victory over Dayton in the finals of the Maui Invitational. Then, in a must-have contest late in the season at top-ranked Baylor, Azubuike had 23 points on 11-for-13 shooting, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots in his team's 64-61 victory, the Jayhawks’ biggest triumph in a 17-1 run through league play.
Azubuike solidified his standing with scouts and front-office personnel at the NBA Draft Combine by measuring with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and recording a 37-inch standing vertical, the latter reportedly the highest by a center in the history of the event.
"He’s going to be a rim-runner, hopefully a paint-protector, a very good defensive rebounder and of course ball screen defender. I believe he can set a ball screen and get out of it," Self said. "Those are the things we’ve been telling him are so important for him to play at the next level and I thought he mastered those about as well as you possibly could at college."
Dotson averaged 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4 assists as a sophomore, connecting on 46.8% of his field goal attempts and 30.9% of his tries from 3-point range.
Self said Dotson’s best play "is well ahead of him."
"Happy for Doke, ecstatic, but certainly feel for Devon," Self said, "because you can’t really say that he deserves more than what some of the others may have got tonight, but in our biased eyes I certainly felt like he was overlooked in a way that I feel like I haven’t seen very often with any of our very own."