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Thursday September 28, 2006 8:54 PM


Second Chance


Azubuike remains positive about his future heading into his second camp


Damien Pierce
Rockets.com Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- Kelenna Azubuike hasn't attended more than a handful of NBA press gatherings, but he already knows what question he will be asked when he shows up for the Rockets' media day on Tuesday.

He'll be asked in a variety of different ways to talk about his father and he understands there isn't any way around it because his father is serving time in a correctional facility.

"I always get asked about it, but it doesn't bother me," Azubuike said. "I love my Dad and that won't change. What happened, happened. I'm just hoping he'll get to see me play in the NBA."

Over a year removed from his difficult decision to leave school early and enter the NBA Draft, Azubuike is still hoping to add that twist -- an NBA roster spot -- to a story that has followed him on his path to the NBA.

The 6-foot-5 guard will begin his second NBA training camp Tuesday when the Rockets tip off preseason workouts inside Toyota Center. After spending the past season in the NBA Developmental League, the young guard is among a handful of hopefuls battling for a roster spot and a chance to work his way into Houston's backcourt rotation.

No one, however, has a story quite like his heading into camp.

Azubuike left Kentucky prior to his senior season, in part, to help his family with finances after his Nigerian-born father, Kenneth, was sent to prison on fraud charges. Kenneth is beginning the second year of a four-year sentence.

Some hoops experts have speculated that Azubuike might have guided Kentucky to the Final Four if he remained in school for his senior season instead of turning pro. Some have argued that he would have been given a guaranteed NBA contract with another year of college experience. Some have even suggested that he would have become a first-round pick.

None of those arguments, however, have ever made Azubuike second guess his decision to leave early.

He believes things worked out one way or another for a reason and he's not looking back on the circumstances that led him to turn pro.

"What would have happened if I would have stayed?" Azubuike said. "Who knows? I try not to think about because nothing is gained by looking back. I've got to look forward and focus on my future."

During his college career, Azubuike led Kentucky in scoring as a junior and was named an All-SEC second-team performer.

He was expected to be one of the top returning players in the nation when news about his father's legal troubles surfaced.

Azubuike ended up declaring for the draft, but went unselected after suffering an injury before the 2005 NBA Draft. He went to training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he averaged seven points and three rebounds in five preseason games before being released.

The guard spent the 2005-06 season with the Fort Worth Flyers of the NBA Developmental League, averaging 12.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting.

Azubuike admits it's been a difficult journey going from the college game to pro level.

"The process has been hard," he said. "I didn't get drafted and I've had to work hard for my opportunities. Basketball, of course, is fun. But it's been a tough process to get to where I want to be."

Azubuike raised his stock some after a solid summer with the Denver Nuggets in the Toshiba Vegas Summer League as he made 57.9 percent of his shots to average 16.4 points per game. He had 25 points and six rebounds against Golden State on July 11.

Since turning pro, Azubuike has improved his dribbling and ability to get to the rim. However, he's still working on his overall game.

"I feel like I'm better off the dribble," Azubuike said. "But I know I still need to improve everything in my game. I need to develop a more consistent jumper and I need to consistently knock down three pointers."

Despite his uncertain future in the NBA, Azubuike is optimistic about remaining with the Rockets this season. He said he's trying to be a quick learner and hard worker.

He's hopeful that he'll have some good news for his father after training camp.

"I'm hoping that I can impress the team enough so that they'll keep me for the rest of the season," Azubuike said. "My goal is to make it and be able to play in front of my father. We still keep in close contact. With everything our family has been through, it would be a good story."