ROME (AP) - Inspired following a visit to the Colosseum, Kansas’ bruising 7-foot, 280-pound center Udoka Azubuike bent the rim out of shape on a pair of monstrous dunks during the opening game of the Jayhawks tour of Italy.
Azubuike’s aggressiveness prompted officials to interrupt play against an Italian all-star squad for several minutes during the second quarter Wednesday to repair the basket. Once the rim was tightened and put back in place, the action resumed.
“We almost didn’t have a game because of him,” coach Bill Self said.
A McDonald’s All-American in high school, the Nigerian-born Azubuike started six games as a freshman for the Jayhawks before a season-ending wrist injury last season.
Now it’s the rim’s turn to get hurt.
“It was just a regular dunk for me,” Azubuike said. “When I play, I play aggressive. That’s pretty much my game.”
Self eventually told Azubuike to cool it.
“He’s a monster,” senior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk said. “I think he’s going to bring some rims down this year. I think one more dunk and it would have gone.”
Earlier, the Jayhawks toured the Colosseum, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.
“I watch a lot of ancient Roman empire movies so when I was seeing everything I was just (recalling) the movies I watched, just putting the puzzles together,” Azubuike said.
Awed by ancient Rome, players walked around town for four hours in 100-degree heat.
Later, in the game against Stellazzurra Roma, heat was a major factor in Kansas’ 90-56 win inside an unair-conditioned bubble.
“I don’t know if the ball was slick but everybody was sliding all over the place,” Self said. “It’s so hot.”
At halftime, Self met with his players outside to avoid the stuffy locker room.
Malik Newman and Devonte’ Graham led the Jayhawks with 16 and 14 points, respectively.
“They’re not going to shoot the ball that well all year long, obviously. But when they make shots they’re pretty good together,” Self said.
The coach then compared the guards to graduated AP Player of the Year Frank Mason III.
“It’s different than Frank. Frank was such a down-heeled north-south guy and those guys are a little bit more perimeter shooters,” Self said. “I thought they both looked good.”
Kansas has one more game in Rome then will play twice in Milan to conclude the exhibition tour.
Having also lost Landen Lucas to graduation, first-round pick Josh Jackson to the NBA and backup forward Carlton Bragg Jr. to transfer, the trip is providing Self with a chance to create some new chemistry.
Besides plenty of travel time together, Self is encouraging his players to embrace the local culture and sample authentic Italian cuisine.
He’s leading by example.
“I had the best pizza I ever had in my life,” Self said. “I went sausage and spicy salami. I learned that if you order ‘peperoni’ (which translates to peppers in Italian) here all you get is vegetables. So I was told, ‘Make sure you get the spicy salami.’”
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