LAWRENCE — Before departing Wednesday for Colorado Springs, Colo., to kick-start his stint as the head coach of USA Basketball’s Under-18 men’s national team, Bill Self has one big loose end to tie up.
A 7-foot loose end, to be more specific.
The Kansas men’s basketball coach will meet with center Udoka Azubuike on Tuesday night to discuss the latter’s future and whether Azubuike intends to remain in the NBA Draft or return to the college ranks for a junior campaign, a decision that must be made by a 10:59 p.m. Wednesday deadline.
Self said he expects a public announcement of Azubuike’s decision sometime Wednesday.
“I think he wants just a little bit more time to think about it before he says anything,” Self said in a Tuesday afternoon teleconference.
“He knows he’s got to (make a decision), and certainly I think it’s OK (to wait),” Self said. “If you’re going to enter the process, why wouldn’t you take the maximum amount of time to try to figure out what all the information is? I think he’s done that. I don’t see anything negative with that.”
As a sophomore, Azubuike averaged 13 points on a Division I-best 77-percent shooting percentage but struggled at the free-throw line to the tune of a 41.3-percent shooting percentage. He also posted seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest.
Azubuike made his decision to test the NBA Draft waters on April 20 but has not hired an agent, leaving the door open to a collegiate return. He is not an expected selection in this year’s draft according to projection outlet NBADraft.net.
Only the NBA Draft’s first-round picks — or the top 30 selections — receive guaranteed contracts.
“I think the opinions that people have of him are very, very high,” said Self, citing two “really good days” for Azubuike at the NBA Draft Combine earlier this month in Chicago. “Doke has been able to get information, and certainly there’s a lot of people that think very highly of him, but he also knew going in what his goals would be in what he wanted to find out in order to stay in the draft.”
SELF WEIGHS IN ON A.D. SEARCH
Self commented on KU’s ongoing search for a new athletic director to replace Sheahon Zenger, fired May 21 by first-year chancellor Douglas Girod.
While he doesn’t expect to be involved much in the search or selection due to his three-week USA Basketball commitment, Self said he’ll do whatever Girod asks of him throughout the process — “And certainly I do hope I’m somewhat in the know on what’s going on,” Self added.
And while he won’t be on the search committee, Self has already had “preliminary” conversations on the type of athletic director he feels would be the best fit for the university.
“It’s still early, and certainly the conversations that I’ve had is more of a, ‘What type of person, what type of strengths, those type of things, would be best for our school at this time?’ ” Self said. “But as far as names, things like that, no. I don’t believe there’s been near as much discussion as what some people think, but I’m sure that’s going to get hot and heavy soon.”
Asked about those attributes he feels would make KU’s next athletic director a good hire, Self didn’t reveal his specific recommendations.
“Hey, I don’t really want to go into it from that standpoint,” Self said. “I would say obviously the goal is to hire the best person that we possibly can that certainly fits KU and some of the things that need to be done here, but I’d rather let a chancellor or the committee speak to that point rather than have a guy that’s not as directly involved.”
NO NEGATIVES IN USA BASKETBALL COMMITMENT
Self’s first stint as head coach of USA Basketball will take him to Colorado Springs and, from June 10-16, to St. Catherines, Canada, for the FIBA Americas U-18 tournament, but he doesn’t see the time lost at home as a major obstacle.
“There’s some things going on (at KU) in June obviously with camps and those sorts of things and also working with your players four hours a week now that they have allowed and being around the office with your team, I think that’s very, very valuable,” Self said. “But for 20 days I’m focused in on all basketball and hopefully this experience will certainly help me become a better coach from learning from other people as well.”
A target for this role for years and likewise wanting to accept the position just as long, Self said the timing was finally right to step in.
“I see the opportunity to work with some really talented youngsters — some I know, some I do not know, but to put all that aside to try to put a team together that obviously can play very, very well and play to our strengths in a very short amount of time," Self said. "That’s the challenge to me, but that’s fun too. So I see the challenges being positive.
“Certainly having a chance to be around all these young people and our staff and all the people with USA Basketball will be something that I know that I’ll enjoy and remember forever.”
One of those “youngsters” Self is already familiar with is guard Quentin Grimes, a five-star recruit and incoming KU freshman who will be part of the USA Basketball U-18 team under the guidance of Self and assistant coaches Danny Manning and Anthony Grant.
There will be no favoritism for Grimes, Self said.
“I love Quentin and I certainly hope he comes and plays extremely well, but I’m not approaching this as, he has an advantage over other guys because he’s coming to KU, and he knows that,” Self said. “It’s going to have to be a situation where he’s going to have to play, and I think those are all positives. ... To have the chance to play in a setting that is not an all-star-game-type setting, where you’re playing for something that’s very important to a lot of people, I think that definitely will help him moving forward and certainly get him prepared to compete when he gets here.”
LATE NIGHT DATE SET
This year’s Late Night in the Phog will take place Friday, Sept. 28, the school announced Tuesday.
The annual kick-off to the men’s and women’s basketball seasons will again feature skits, scrimmages and speeches and will this year be held one day before the football team’s homecoming contest against Oklahoma State at Memorial Stadium.