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International Jayhawks to reunite with family at Final Four

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Udoka Azubuike has waited several years for the thrill he’ll get when he looks into the Alamodome stands at the Final Four and sees his mother.

Sure, Azubuike appreciates the opportunity to play for a national title with his Kansas Jayhawks. But he is the starting center for one of the nation’s most prestigious college basketball programs, and his mother has never seen him play.

In fact, Florence Azonuwu hasn’t seen her son at all for six years.

“It is just going to be nice to see her again,” Azubuike said. “This is what basketball is all about. Reuniting with family and getting to meet your family. That is the best part about it.”

Azonuwu’s emergency travel visa from Nigeria to the U.S. was only approved Thursday, following some wrangling by the school, Kansas’ two senators and the U.S. State Department. If she can get through three flights over 24 hours while avoiding trouble from an Air France strike in Paris, Azonuwu expects to be in San Antonio by the time Kansas takes the court against fellow top seed Villanova.

Azubuike was 13 years old when he left Nigeria to play basketball in Jacksonville, Florida. While he grew into an impressive student-athlete, most of his contact with his mother and siblings has been limited to phone calls every few weeks.

“Can you imagine?” Kansas coach Bill Self asked. “You’ve never seen your son play basketball, and the first time you do it is in front of 70,000 people at this thing? I can’t even imagine what’s going to be going through her mind.”

And she won’t be the only parent taking advantage of the financial help provided by the NCAA, which gives several thousand dollars in stipends to family members so they can make the trip to the Final Four.

Silvio De Sousa’s father is planning to travel from Angola to see his son for the first time since last summer. Ukrainian guard Svi Mykhailiuk will welcome both of his parents, who have already made the trip stateside this season for Kansas’ senior night.

De Sousa also left Africa to play high school basketball in the U.S., and he spent the past four years learning English and becoming a student capable of thriving at Kansas while growing into one of the nation’s most coveted big men. He is looking forward to showing everything he has learned to his father, Jean-Jacques, since De Sousa was still in high school the last time they saw each other.

“I didn’t know everything would be so hard for me, but the past two years have been a lot better,” De Sousa said. “I feel more comfortable here, and since I get to see my family almost every summer, now I’m handling things a lot better. I made the decision, and I knew it was going to be a hard decision, a tough decision. I just took it day by day, and I’m glad so far.”

After committing to the Jayhawks last year, De Sousa completed his final high school exams in Florida shortly before Christmas, eager to get to Kansas in time to contribute to the current team.

De Sousa, who says he can’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time, credits his active mind and ferocious attitude toward self-improvement partly to his parents’ influence in their daily video phone calls. For instance, he learned his new language in a uniquely aggressive way.

“I talked a lot, even though I didn’t know English,” De Sousa said of his first year in the U.S. “I would just say something just to make sure I learn. And I love to make mistakes, because if you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn. So I made sure I made mistakes so that I would learn something.”

De Sousa arrived in Lawrence — wearing shorts, no less — on Dec. 26, and he played for the Jayhawks on Jan. 13. He has matured into a key reserve for the Jayhawks in a remarkably short time, backing up Azubuike and contributing on both ends of the court.

“He’s grown a lot,” said Marcus Garrett, De Sousa’s fellow Kansas freshman. “It’s hard when you’re coming in and you have to learn 40 plays in a week. He was thrown right into the fire. He was playing quick, like two weeks after he got here. He came in working hard. He didn’t come in with a lazy mindset, and when you’re trying to learn, you can pick things up.”

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.