The paint is essentially off limits when Rudy Gobert is on the court.
And the newest member of the Utah Jazz wants to make sure it’s just as uninviting when the two-time Defensive Player of the Year needs a breather.
The Jazz selected Udoka Azubuike, a 7-foot center from Kansas, with the 27th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday night. Now Azubuike, who averaged 2.6 blocks per game last season for the Jayhawks, will have a chance to learn from Gobert and potentially earn minutes behind him.
“I’m so excited to play alongside Rudy,” Azubuike said. “A defensive specialist, that’s mostly what I did at Kansas. I had a similar role to affect the game defensively. So I’m excited to learn from him.”
Azubuike played four years at Kansas, averaging 13.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during his senior season. During his career, Azubuike became college basketball’s all-time field goal percentage leader.
Azubuike said he was able to meet with Jazz officials during a pre-draft visit.
“They came down to Kansas to do a physical on me,” he said. “Our conversation really went good. They liked the way I played … the game and everything.”
Jazz officials certainly came away impressed.
“We felt at the end of the day that ’Dok was the best defensive player, best player available given his unique production, physical attributes and ability to affect both offensively and defensively on the court,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said.
Jazz front office officials had said they were looking for unique talent and physical characteristics in their draft pick, and believe they’ve found in the big man with the 7-foot-7 wingspan and “unique power numbers in our athletic testing.”
“He has strength and ability to finish through contact and a great lob radius,” Zanik said. “He has the potential to be a very good roll man. And, in our opinion, he was the most impactful defensive player in the draft.”
The Nigerian-born big man had been projected to go in the second round in some mock drafts, but said those projections never bothered him.
“For me, I’ve just been working hard and keeping my head down,” he said. “Not listening to the people talking about projections. A lot of people had me in the second round, but I wasn’t concerned about that. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can bring to a team. I know whatever team drafted me, I’m going to have to go there and have to prove myself and work hard.”
Jazz officials believe Azubuikie has the physical tools to play in the NBA immediately, but said it will take all rookies time to adjust to the league after nine months without competitive games, and an offseason without a summer league.
“It’s a unique year for these guys,” Zanik said.
But the 21-year-old rim-protector is ready to get started in Salt Lake City.
“My goal is to learn from the vets and keep improving on my game, and try to help the team anywhere I can,” he said. “Be that defensive presence when Rudy needs a break, needs a little rest. Just keep improving my game. Get a little better.”
2020 Jazz Draft coverage is presented by University of Utah Health, trusted health care provider of the Utah Jazz.