Udoka Azubuike had totaled just 49 NBA minutes through his first seven weeks in the league, mostly in garbage time, and the Utah Jazz wanted him to have more of an opportunity to play and develop, so they assigned him to the Salt Lake City Stars.
But in the Stars’ season-opening game in the G League bubble in Orlando, Azubuike suffered a severe right ankle sprain that will keep him out indefinitely.
The No. 27 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, Azubuike came to the Jazz from the University of Kansas after a college campaign that impressed the Jazz so much that he shot up their draft board.
“You’re crushed primarily for him more than anything. Particularly for a young player, in their first year, that can be not only trying from a physical standpoint but having to deal with that emotionally.” — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder
With Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and even Juwan Morgan on the depth chart ahead of Azubuike, the former Jayhawk was also facing a season after not having played competitively for more than nine months. It was going to take some time for the rookie to get into peak game shape and learn the NBA game. After the injury suffered on Wednesday, Azubuike’s development is going to be delayed even further.
With less than three minute left on the clock in the Stars game against the Erie BayHawks, Azubuike went up for a shot in the paint over Erie’s Omari Spellman. As Azubuike landed he immediately fell to the floor clutching at his lower leg and writhing in pain as multiple players on the court and on the bench turned away with shocked looks on their faces.
After a several-minute delay, Azubuike was taken off the court on a stretcher.
“Our whole staff was watching the game and I saw the play live and then obviously the replays,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday. “You’re crushed primarily for him more than anything. Particularly for a young player, in their first year, that can be not only trying from a physical standpoint but having to deal with that emotionally.”
With what looked like a very gruesome injury, the news that Azubuike did not break any bones or suffer any other structural damage to his leg or food is a relief for many.
Before going down, Azubuike finished 11 rebounds, eight points, and two blocks in the Stars’ loss to Erie and. The Stars lost their second game of the season on Thursday to the Oklahoma City Blue.
Azubuike had been hopeful and looking forward to learning as much as he could from two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner Rudy Gobert and noted that because Gobert had spent time in the G League that it gave him a little more confidence in what his path toward an NBA career could look like.
“We just want to support him in any way we can,” Snyder said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll get a quick return. We’ll find out exactly what that means, but I know with our performance staff and with his work ethic, he’ll be back.”
Azubuike is expected to return to Salt Lake City in the near future rather than stay in the Orlando bubble.