What do Joel Embiid, Cliff Alexander and Udoka Azubuike have in common? All three promising frontcourt players had their freshman season cut short. Bill Self announced in a press release last night that the Azubuike suffered a season-ending wrist injury in practice on Tuesday, with torn ligaments that will need to be surgically repaired. “Surgery should take place in the next few weeks and doctors are confident he will make a full recovery and be full-speed sometime this summer.”
Azubuike had started the last six games in the center position in the starting lineup, the only big man to start in what has been an unusual setup for a Kansas team. He produced in that spot too, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2 blocks in his starts. He was limited by foul trouble, only averaging 15.3 minutes a game, but his presence provided a spark that was missing early in the season as senior Landen Lucas and sophomore Carlton Bragg Jr. were struggling.
Lucas will likely step into the starting lineup in place of Azubuike, and his recent improvement provides reason for optimism. Bragg should continue to improve as well, and ultimately Azubuike might have seen his role start to diminish as the upper classmen started performing. At the very least though, this severely hurts the depth for Kansas, especially in the frontcourt. The only other two big men available to play are junior Dwight Coleby (averaging 1.5 points in 5.3 min/game) and freshman Mitch Lightfoot (averaging 1.2 points in 4.3 min/game). The Jayhawks have already been prone to foul trouble, so it is extremely likely that both Coleby and Lightfoot will see significant minutes at least a few times this year.
The only positive thing to come out of this injury is the timing. With the loss of Azubuike this early in the season, Self will have the opportunity to develop his role players with some additional playing time. With the conference slate fast approaching, it will be especially important to get Coleby and Lightfoot up to speed.
We will get our first look at the new lineups tonight as Kansas takes on UNLV in their first true road game of the season. Until then, our main focus is on Azubuike, and we join the team and the rest of Jayhawk nation in wishing him well.