Monday, January 25, 2016

Newly Minted All American Azubuike Nearing Tough Decision

The high lob floated up roughly four feet from the rim--a risky pass, to say the least--but everyone in the gym at Potter's House Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) knew where the ball would end up.

In one monstrous moment, 6-foot-11 Udoka Azubuike plucked the ball with both hands and crushed home an emphatic two-handed dunk.

He needed that.

The entire team needed that.

After a rough 53-35 loss to Pennsylvania power Westtown, it was back to the grind for Steve McLaughlin's 13-5 squad.

Prior to Azubuike's decision between North Carolina, Florida State, and Kansas, McLaughlin wants nothing more than the newly-minted All American to establish his presence and bully foes in the paint.

"Coming back and having those big wins in Kentucky and then coming back and losing a couple games, it was a wake up call for us," McLaughlin said.

"Guys started thinking it was easy. With big 'Dok, he's improved dramatically. His footwork has improved so much it's not even funny. When he first got here, he couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time. He was always athletic and able to dunk it but he couldn't really do anything else. Now he's the guy you throw the ball to and he'll go get a bucket."

The 270-pound gargantuan, Jacksonville's first All-American since Duke's high-rising Grayson Allen, has developed a pack of post moves to balance his putbacks and trademark two-handed jams.

 There's a jump hook. There's an up-and-under move. There's a face-up game that McLaughlin describes as growing.

"When he gets to the next level he's going to show his whole package. We'll sit in the gym for an hour and work on every important move possible. He can do it all. He's a hell of a talent."

And where will this next level be for Azubuike?

"It's still down to those same three and right now the school that's moving the most aggressively, just to be honest it's North Carolina," said McLaughlin.

"Just right now. Lately, North Carolina has been the one that's been trying to see him the most and the one that's been in touch with him the most. But it's still that three-way battle."

Azubuike said he'd likely have the decision made soon.

"Coach (Roy) Williams, he emphasizes trust," Azubuike said.

 "He pretty much is recruiting me the most seriously. Just like the rest. I'm nearing the process of making my decision. That's why it's a little difficult right now. Kansas, they have a good big man tradition. With Florida State, they're trying to get a big man who can really score in the paint."

Azubuike knows the more he scores in the post and the more aggressive he is to get to the bucket, the better Potter's House's chances are.

 It's why he's been in the gym for an extra 45 minutes each day, working to rectify recent free throw woes. McLaughlin and others have made sure Azubuike doesn't leave practice without knocking down a string of free throws.

"I've been devoting a lot of time on (free throws)," Azubuike said.

"Each time I get into the gym, the first thing I do is go to the free throw line. I'm just trying to get my free throws better, get my form better."

Azubuike didn't take basketball seriously until he was 14, leaving the soccer cleats for the Shaq-sized sneakers and entertaining one of Florida's most daunting prep schedules.

He came in with natural ability and strength that was pretty much unrivaled for his age group. In fact, he was 6-foot-10 as a freshman. With people constantly in his ear, urging him to play basketball, Azubuike said he simply did not have much of a choice. 

Now he's got a bit of a tougher choice cooking on his front burner.

"It's going to come down to trust--I've got to coaches and all of that. It's got to come down to style pretty much family tradition and trust."

Developing more of a nose for the rim and demanding the ball more, McLaughlin feels his prized recruit's stock is just beginning to gain value. His scoring is still getting better and still growing, as McLaughlin stated. A lot of it as it the urging of the coaching staff.

"The coaches tell me all the time, every game (to be aggressive)," Azubuike said.

"Coach (McLaughlin) emphasizes it with the team a lot, just pounding the ball into the post. He says that when I'm in the paint I could get a quick bucket and a foul. He tells me to just get into the paint and dominate. Because that's the thing I do best."