Things could change depending on how Udoka Azubuike’s right ankle reacts to treatment in coming days, but, as of Thursday, the target date for the Kansas center’s return to game action would be the Jan. 2 Big 12 opener against Oklahoma.
“I don’t know anything scientifically. The doctors haven’t told me this, but if he’s 100 percent by conference I think that would be OK,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday afternoon at his weekly news conference at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I’m not saying he would have to miss everything up to that point. Just to be confident and 100 percent, I don’t think that would be a bad wish,” Self added of Azubuike playing in the league opener.
Azubuike, a 7-foot, 270-pound junior who grabbed four rebounds in four minutes in the first half of Tuesday’s 72-47 victory over Wofford, went down under the defensive goal with 11:38 remaining in the half and KU up, 13-12. He twisted his ankle after trying to block the shot of Nathan Hoover, who scored on the play.
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Azubuike was helped off the court to the locker room, putting no weight on his right foot or leg. Initially Self referred to the injury as a “high-ankle sprain,” but since then it’s been amended to just a severe sprain.
“I haven’t talked to him today, but his spirits seem to be OK,” Self said of Azubuike. He played in just 11 games his freshman year before a season-ending wrist injury. He missed three Big 12 Tournament games last season, recovering quickly from a knee injury in time for the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t think he’s excited about it (being hurt). He won’t put any weight on it for another couple of days or probably very little weight. I don’t see any reason why he can’t be ‘up and at em’ by the end of the weekend. I mean walking in a boot and being active and that kind of stuff. But it’s going to be extended,” Self added of time on the sidelines.
KU freshman reserve forward David McCormack said Azubuike, “is sad about what happened, but he still has bright spirits and still wants the best for each individual player on the team. Just knowing Doke he is going to want me to step up, not take charge, but to know what I need to do to help the team and be confident in that.”
Self reiterated Thursday he will start 6-foot-5 sophomore Marcus Garrett at the power forward spot during Saturday’s game against New Mexico State (7:30 p.m. at the Sprint Center). However, the 6-10, 265-pound McCormack, who has averaged 4.5 minutes a game in six games, definitely could see more playing time trying to help make up for the absence of Azubuike, who averages 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 20.1 minutes per outing.
“We go from being a really deep team inside to now we don’t have much depth inside at all,” Self said. “Not only do we have Doke out, but have Silvio out, too.”
Sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa is practicing but not playing in games as KU and the NCAA look into his eligibility.
“We do have more options,” Self stated. “Last year when Doke went out (early in games because of foul problems), we didn’t have Silvio either almost half the season. It was just Mitch (6-8 Lightfoot, junior forward averaging 6.6 minutes a game this season). If Mitch got two fouls the first 10 minutes, it was, ‘Oh my gosh what are we going to do?’’’ Self said. “Even though we won’t play as big the percentage (majority) of the time, we’ve got enough bigs. We’ve got a backup to a backup which is nice to have. We didn’t have that last year.”
Lightfoot — he has scored eight points and grabbed 10 boards in 46 minutes played — could wind up battling McCormack (13 points, 14 boards in 27 minutes played) for precious minutes the next couple weeks.
“He just needs time,” Self said of McCormack, a McDonald’s All-American out of Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. “This is not a knock at all to anyone that comes in. Cole Aldrich kind of went through the same thing (as a freshman). We’ve had some pretty good players that have gone through the same thing that David is. David is a good player now. He’s going to be a really good player. He just needs time.
“We didn’t expect David to come in and dominate as a freshman. If Doke is not in foul trouble and Doke is healthy we knew his (McCormack’s) opportunities would be limited. You’ve got to look long range. He does probably need some time in games to play through some mistakes. With our schedule and being unable to separate ourselves in games, that’s been hard to do.”
McCormack said he’s ready to embrace a bigger role for the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (7-0).
“It’s something I’m really looking forward to, going in and getting a few more minutes,” McCormack said, “proving I can play an important role to the team however I can.”
He said he won’t try to copy Azubuike.
“That’s not me to go try to play like any other person or impersonate anybody else’s game,” McCormack said. “Even with more minutes, I’ll stick to what I do well, stick to my role. If I do that well, then it not only benefits me but benefits the team and puts us in the right standing.”
McCormack said he’s determined to, “have high intensity but make sure I’m not rushed. Coach Rob (Norm Roberts) always tells me, ‘Play with pace, be fast, but not rushed.’ As long as I don’t hurry my game, I’ll be in great standing.”
McCormack said he won’t feel any extra pressure if his role expands against New Mexico State (7-1) on Saturday.
“If I know I’m a hustle player and rebounder, as long as if I do that and take care of the ball I’m taking a step in the right direction,” McCormack said.