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Udoka Azubuike’s All-American Transformation

The Jayhawk has become one of the best big men in the country

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If there is such a thing as the equivalent of a Heisman moment for college basketball, Udoka Azubuike might have had his in 36 minutes on Saturday against Baylor with 23 points, 19 rebounds, 3 blocks, and a lot of national praise.

There’s less of Udoka Azubuike for opposing teams to worry about now that he’s trimmed down this season, but what’s left is even more imposing.

Doke is in the best shape of his college career. And the results are evident across the board. The per-game numbers are either at or above the 2017-2018 season, which had been the best statistically of Doke’s career (and the only one where he played in 30+ games).

2017-18: 13 points, 7 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 3 fouls, 23.6 minutes

2019-20: 13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.5 fouls, 27.7 minutes

The minutes are also a little misleading in that the time on the court doesn’t feel as close as a four-minute difference. Doke has played 30+ minutes in 11 games this season out of 27. He only had five 30+ minute games throughout the entire 2017-18 season.

And on Saturday, it was 36 crucial minutes with David McCormack fouling out after five minutes and Baylor refusing to go away. KU needed every one of them from Doke. But the numbers don’t seem to do Doke’s growth justice. As much as maybe any other player in the country, Doke passes the eye test when you watch how helpless opponents look going up against him on either end of the court.

Less time will be spent on the offense, as he’s always been a dominant, efficient scorer (leading the country in field goal percentage for the year and his career) around the basket. And this year, Doke is working with a team that, Self has commented several times, does not excel at feeding the post. Though they have been much improved in recent games and was great against Baylor.

His leaner frame has looked to add a level to his athleticism. Would Doke have been able to finish some of the ridiculous plays he’s made this year a season ago?

The defensive end is where Doke is really standing out. He is posting career bests in rebounds (by just more than three a game), steals, and blocks, all while only averaging 2.5 fouls per game. Doke is the best rebounder in the Big 12, and has eclipsed his total from 2017-18 by more than 20 already. He is also second in the conference in blocks (12th nationally).

He has become an excellent rim protector, and while big men who can stretch out to the 3-point line still cause him troubles, the improvement on the perimeter is evident in Doke’s confidence and ability switching screens and stepping out of the paint. The result is two Jayhawks (Doke and Marcus Garrett) fighting for defensive player of the year honors and sparking an interesting debate about which is more valuable, perimeter defense or a rim protector.

We won’t get into that here. The point is Doke is one half of two dynamic duos (with Devon Dotson on offense and Garrett on defense) that make Kansas a legitimate national title front runner.

He might not win national player of the year, but if Kansas cuts down nets this year, Doke’s presence and transformation that is four years in the making will be a key reason why.