Azubuike Keeps Bouncing Back

A positive mindset got Jazz center Udoka Azubuike back to the court following a severe ankle injury

After a phenomenal performance on Feb. 10 in a game on assignment with the Salt Lake City Stars -- Udoka Azubuike landed awkwardly on his ankle. 

The injury was so severe that players on the court immediately turned their heads away, grimacing. Azubuike was taken off on a stretcher and was later diagnosed with a severe right ankle sprain and missed the next three months of action.

After a rigorous rehab process where he fought and grinded every day, Azubuike returned to full action in August with a strong performance in the NBA Summer League, averaging nearly 14 points per game and 10 rebounds a contest in seven games in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

"The best thing I could do was to focus on my rehab and not let those negative thoughts take over me," he said. "There were moments when it was sad and negative, but they didn't last long. I'd been through this before, so I knew what to expect."

Azubuike now enters the upcoming season not just a different person physically, but a much stronger one mentally. On top of his physical rehab, Azubuike took time to watch his teammates to understand the mental side of the game better. 

"One of the positives, or a way to look at it, is that I was able to get smarter by just watching," Azubuike said. "I was able to understand and see things that I wouldn't have before, and especially because it had been a long time since I'd really played. I feel I’m better than I've been before."

Azubuike’s no stranger to adversity as his adolescence prepared him how to deal with tribulations and setbacks.

Tragically, Azubuike lost his father at the age of 10, then moved far away from his family and home in Nigeria to play high school basketball in America at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla.

When he first arrived, he spoke very little English and did so with a strong accent—all while trying to learn the game of basketball, juggle homework and adapt to a new country—Azubuike had to learn and adjust to life on the fly.

He was labeled a five-star prospect out of high school through hard work, determination, and an incredible physical skillset. He committed to Kansas University over the likes of other blueblood programs like Duke, Texas, Kentucky, and North Carolina—embarking on a four-year journey full of highs and lows. 

While in college, he suffered a myriad of injuries that could've easily derailed his up-and-coming career on the court. From tearing ligaments in his wrist and hand to a sprained MCL in his knee.

"There were definitely times when I would keep wondering why I was always the one who was getting hurt," Azubuike said. "It's hard when you never feel like you can be your best because you're hurt or dealing with something. It was difficult at times."

No stranger to hardship, Azubuike just kept bouncing back. He finished his four-year collegiate career with averages of 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Among his many accolades, he garnered Consensus All-American Second Team honors, NABC Defensive Player of the Year accolades and was selected as the Big 12 Player of the Year following his senior season.

Now he faces a different challenge ahead of his second NBA season. With three-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert and former NBA shot-blocking leader Hassan Whiteside on the depth chart ahead of him, he’s still working hard and continuing to learn.

But like everything Azubuike's been through in life and overcome, he’s proven that a positive mindset and hard work are precisely why you shouldn't bet against him.

"I'm just excited to be out here playing and getting better. … It's going to be a fun year," he said with a smile on his face.

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