LAWRENCE — Udoka Azubuike has received the Big 12’s highest honor.
Hanging a banner — or perhaps two — inside Allen Fieldhouse could come next for the 7-footer.
Azubuike, the top-ranked Jayhawks’ senior center, capped a sensational regular season of on-court growth Sunday when he was named the Big 12’s player of the year, as voted on by the league’s head coaches. A virtual lock for the top-overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament, KU (28-3) will likely be the prohibitive favorite entering March Madness.
The second banner would sport Azubuike’s name and number — earning Big 12 player of the year is one of the program’s automatic qualifiers for jersey retirement, head coach Bill Self outlined earlier this year in a ceremony for former Jayhawk standout and league honoree Marcus Morris.
"First, I want to thank God for making this possible," Azubuike said in a news release. "I also want to thank all the coaches for believing in me, Coach Self and Coach Rob (Norm Roberts). I also want to thank all my teammates. They played a huge part in helping me win this. I want to thank all my teammates and everyone who has supported me from the very beginning."
Azubuike was also an All-Big 12 first-team selection, along with teammate Devon Dotson, Baylor’s Jared Butler, Oklahoma’s Kristian Doolittle and TCU’s Desmond Bane. KU’s Marcus Garrett was selected as the league’s defensive player of the year, while Baylor’s Scott Drew got the nod as the league’s coach of the year.
Averaging 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, Azubuike came on strong in a conference slate that saw the Jayhawks finish with a 17-1 record — the Delta, Nigeria, native posted 14 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game in league play.
Azubuike’s best performance came when it mattered most. He finished with 23 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in KU's 64-61 victory at Baylor on Feb. 22 in Waco, Texas, an outcome that pulled the two teams into a tie for the Big 12 lead with four games remaining. The Jayhawks won out and earned an outright league crown.
In his final game inside Allen Fieldhouse — a 75-66 victory over TCU last Wednesday — Azubuike scored 31 points on 13-for-14 shooting, hauled in 14 rebounds and blocked five shots.
"He’s a monster," said Self, speaking after the Jayhawks’ 66-62 victory Saturday at Texas Tech. "I mean, he’s a guy that, I’m sure somebody else in America has one, but there’s not many, if any. And there’s better offensive players obviously, but the way he can move and protect the rim and still yet change game plans on how you attack the team’s defense I think gives us an advantage in that area because he’s a really good ball screen defender and he did a nice job today even though he wasn’t quite as active as he has been."
Other individual honorees included Baylor's Davion Mitchell (newcomer of the year), Freddie Gillespie (most improved player) and Devonte Bandoo (sixth man award) and Texas Tech's Jahmi'us Ramsey (freshman of the year). Kansas State's Xavier Sneed was an All-Big 12 honorable mention.