University of Kansas

KU coach Bill Self seeks major production from Azubuike; will Lightfoot redshirt?

Like his coaching peers in the Big 12 Conference, Kansas’ Bill Self envisions great things from senior center Udoka Azubuike this season.

“Certainly I think he needs to play to an All-American status for us. … I expect him to be the best big man in the country,” Self, KU’s 17th-year coach, said Wednesday night, eight hours after the 7-foot Nigeria native was chosen the conference’s preseason player of the year.

“Obviously preseason stuff doesn’t mean anything, but it could be confidence builders or could initiate undue pressure, too, because you feel you have to live up to something. We haven’t talked about it yet. I haven’t said, ‘Congratulations’ yet.”

Self conducted practice Wednesday afternoon in the school’s practice gym then, along with his Jayhawks players, directed the annual Ladies Night Out fundraiser for cancer research in Allen Fieldhouse, the practice gym and the weight room.

“I do think this will excite him, which is good, especially when you’ve been in a situation you haven’t played two of the three years you’ve been here,” Self added of Azubuike, who had injury problems his freshman and junior campaigns.

Azubuike, prior to posing for pictures for 400 or so women at Ladies Night Out, said he was honored to learn he’d been named preseason player of the year in a vote of league coaches. Azubuike and teammate Devon Dotson made up 40% of the league’s preseason all-conference team.

“It’s great to be recognized at the beginning of the year. Now I’ve got to go out and prove it, work hard for my team,” Azubuike said. “It’s really nice. My focus is still on my team. I’ve got to be me and do what I do.”

Azubuike is part of a four-man big man group that includes senior Mitch Lightfoot, sophomore David McCormack and junior Silvio De Sousa.

Lightfoot is likely going to be redshirted, though Self stressed no decision has been made with a week left before KU’s exhibition opener against Fort Hays State (7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 24).

“I don’t believe there’s anybody else other than Mitch that would be a possibility,” Self said of redshirting. “We haven’t made that decision on Mitch yet, even though in a perfect world that would be great, knowing you have some experience returning next year with a good chance maybe you are not going to have many guys back, at least who are playing this year.”

If everybody stays healthy, big-man minutes might be tough for Lightfoot to earn this season.

“It’s not fair to him not to have a great last year, because he’s the best,” Self said. “He loves this place. He bleeds red and blue combined. I would love for him to have the opportunity to go out in style his way. Playing more minutes next year would probably be the case just because we have more bigs this year.”

Self said the team is relatively healthy. Graduate transfer Isaiah Moss has missed some time because of a hamstring injury.

“He is actually much better from a physical standpoint. Today was the best day he’s had I think he’s had since he’s been here. He looked quicker,” Self said of Moss, a 6-5 senior combo guard from Chicago. “He’d be the first to tell you he feels better than he’s felt up to this point,” Self added.

Self was asked to for a progress report on his team after 16 practices. He noted that 12 practices remain before the Nov. 5 regular season opener against Duke at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“They are competitive. They are actually pretty good listeners. They are trying hard,” Self said. “We have shown flashes where we’ve shot it decent, (shot it) pretty good. We’ve shown flashes we better be the best darn rebounding team in America, too. I like them. I don’t think we are close to being a good team. You get kind of teased a couple practices because you make shots. Making shots basically camouflages all the things you do behind that. I do like our guys. I think we have potential,” Self added.

Self didn’t offer an answer when one of the women at Ladies Night Out asked him in a Q&A session who’d be in the starting lineup to open the 2019-20 season.

“I do think there’s a good chance Doke starts. I do think there’s a good chance Devon starts,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to do that,” he added of revealing an opening five. “I could see different combinations based on the opponent. We’re versatile, pretty big. We still have more practices where they can earn it.”

Self on vote

Self didn’t reveal his choice for Big 12 preseason player of the year. Coaches can’t vote for players on their own team. “I don’t know I remember exactly who I voted for. You (realize) I’ve had a couple things on my mind lately. Recruiting has just been tough,” he added, smiling. “I don’t recall exactly who I voted for.”

Dotson on honor

Dotson said of earning preseason all-Big 12 honors: “I mean it’s preseason. We haven’t taken the court yet this season so it really doesn’t matter,” he said. Of teammate Azubuike winning player of the year, Dotson said: “It’s big — a player from our program getting that preseason honor. It breeds more excitement, hype for the season. We are excited to get things going.” ... Self said of Dotson: “Of the 16 practices I’d say he’s been really good in 12 of them. (He’s) becoming more consistent.”

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