What Do Former Play By Play Voices Say About Jazz Rookies?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz added two new rookies to the roster during Wednesday’s NBA draft. The Jazz selected Kansas Jayhawks center Udoka Azubuike with the 27th pick of the first round and then acquired the 39th pick from the New Orleans Pelicans to select guard Elijah Hughes in the second round.
On the latest Jazz Notes Podcast, host Ben Anderson talked to Jayhawks play by play voice Brian Hanni about Azubuike’s unique path to the NBA, and the impact he can have on the Jazz. Then, Anderson interviewed Syracuse broadcaster, Matt Park, about Elijah Hughes’ background and skill set as a basketball player.
What Does Rookie Udoka Azubuike Offer The Jazz?
Udoka Azubuike spent four years at Kansas but suffered hand injuries during his freshman and sophomore years that limited potential national championship runs for the Jayhawks.
Though Azubuike played a full four years at college, he’s younger than many juniors who entered the draft. In fact, he’s the younger of the two Jazz rookies.
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“Here’s a kid that lost his father at an early age. Made the decision at the age of 13 to leave his mother and his siblings to travel halfway around the world for the pursuit of a better life in America, a chance to pursue a basketball future,” Hanni said. “And he lands in Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of 13. And ultimately winds up at Kansas at the age of 16.”
Azubuike is just turned 21 in September, despite a significant amount of basketball experienced under his belt. After facing such significant adversity during his young life, the newest Jazz big man developed into a well-rounded adult with the Jayhawks.
“He settled in and he really blossomed as a person in terms of just his happiness and his demeanor,” Hanni said. “He went from a shy kid that was so young and so raw and so green, to now be a big man on campus literally and figuratively. Everybody loved this guy.”
Azubuike averaged 13.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks during his final season at Kansas. But how will the rookie’s skillset translate into the NBA?
“He’s a shot-blocking presence,” Hanni said. “A rim protector and a shot alterer. This guy’s unreal. Moving side to side, the quickness of his feet, the agility, you saw the vertical leap numbers, which were literally off the charts in the pre-draft combine testing he did. I mean, it truly was one of the rare collections of physical attributes we’ve ever seen at the big man position.”
Azubuike ranked among the best leapers at any position in the pre-draft process having recorded an impressive 41-inch vertical leap, the fourth highest of any player measured. His 37 inch standing vertical leap was the second-highest of any player measured.
What Does Rookie Elijah Hughes Offer The Jazz?
Elijah Hughes joins the Jazz after spending his sophomore and junior year at Syracuse. The shooting guard transferred to the Orange after one season at East Carolina. As a result, Hughes is older than most juniors and is the oldest of the two Jazz rookies at 22 years old.
What happened with Hughes during his college career before landing with the Jazz?
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“His story is he was probably under-recruited in the first place,” Park said. “He winds up going to East Carolina and it didn’t work out there and played as a freshman averaged six or seven points a game, and didn’t play a ton. Coach Boeheim remembered him from the original recruitment and he comes to Syracuse as a transfer, sits out a year, but looked good in practice and was chomping at the bit to get going.”
Once Hughes got to Syracuse, he quickly blossomed into an NBA prospect.
“Last year Elijah Hughes was the go-to guy, everybody knows he’s the best player on the team and the person who is going to take the key shots,” Park said.
Hughes was asked to do a lot in Syracuse offense on a uniquely undertalented Orange roster. The junior guard averaged 19 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists en route to a selection on the All-ACC team. but what does he offer the Jazz?
“He’s so skilled,” Park said. “He’s got good range, he can get to the basket, he’s a good free-throw shooter, so I think the calling card for him is that he’s a three-level scorer.”
Despite being Syracuse’s most gifted scorer, Hughes proved to be a willing playmaker setting up teammates after drawing the attention of the defense.
“He could have had his 40 points games on a couple of occasions and deferred,” Park said. “Georgia Tech was a great example, he made his first five three-pointers, and the first four might have been in two minutes. […] He had 26 at halftime, and could have had 40 in that game.”
Like most second-round pick rookies, Hughes joins the Jazz without a guaranteed contract. However, he should be a safe bet to make the roster on a low-cost rookie deal.
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