SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – There’s a familiar face that’s been back with the Utah Jazz in recent weeks, even if he hasn’t been on the floor. Udoka Azubuike, the team’s first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft is once again traveling and practicing with the team.
The former Kansas star played sparingly for the Jazz early in the season before suffering a gruesome-looking ankle injury in his first game with the G League affiliate Salt Lake City Stars in February.
Azubuike remained in Orlando for short period after the injury before returning to Salt Lake City to continue his rehab on what was labeled as a severe right ankle sprain.
Now, back with the team, Jazz coach Quin Snyder discussed Azubuike’s difficult road over the last year.
“He’s working really hard,” Snyder said. “You think about what he’s been through in his rookie year from the time that the college season was canceled last year, and waiting through the entire process of the draft, then joining a team where he’s playing behind Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.”
Azubuike appeared in 12 games for the Jazz early in the season where he averaged 1.0 points and 1.1 rebounds in just 4.1 minutes of action. The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Stars before injuring his ankle in the Orlando bubble during his G League debut.
“Getting an opportunity to go to the bubble and getting a chance to compete, then getting hurt and having to come back. There’s a grind there,” Snyder said. “And he’s had to fight through it and he’s done a good job.”
During a rare glimpse of a team shootaround during the NBA’s Zoom-based conference calls, Azubuike could be seen running and jumping on the practice court with assistant coach Vince Legarza as the Jazz prepared to face the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Despite making progress after the injury, the Jazz continue to sit Azubuike with the injury, and Snyder said he didn’t know when the team could expect him back.
“Hopefully he can continue to get more and more healthy. Wherever that takes us towards the season, I know there’s not a lot of time left in the season, but we’d love to have him back as soon as we can.”
Even if Azubuike were to be cleared this year, it’s unlikely he’d get much playing as the schedule winds down. After facing the Timberwolves, the Jazz will have just 11 games left to play before beginning the playoffs.
The Jazz might not have to wait until next season to see Azubuike back in competitive action, however. The league has been working towards resuming its annual summer league in Las Vegas where the rookie center could continue to develop his game.