Centers of attention make Kansas-Texas Big 12 opener a must-watch

Texas forward Mohamed Bamba, left, shoots over Gonzaga forward Johnathan Williams during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.

Austin, Texas — More pivotal factors exist than who wins the matchup between the biggest players in tonight’s Kansas-Texas Big 12 opener, but the two centers qualify as the most compelling reason to watch.

KU’s Udoka Azubuike and UT’s Mohamed Bamba have long bodies in common and that’s about it. The thick, broad Azubuike carries 280 pounds on his 7-foot frame. He played soccer before basketball. He’s still learning basketball and is improving rapidly, but still doesn’t feel the game. He’s on the reserved side.

Bamba grew up in basketball-rich Harlem, N.Y. He’s outgoing without being obnoxious. He packs just 225 pounds on his 6-11 frame.

Azubuike has more power, Bamba a better knack for blocking shots.

Name Hometown Ht. Wt. Wingspan MPG PPG RPG APG BPG FG pct. FT pct.
Udoka Azubuike Laos, Nigeria 7-0 280 7-5 25.0 15.5 8.0 0.5 1.6 .779 .400
Mohamed Bamba New York, NY 6-11 225 7-9 28.2 10.9 9.8 0.4 4.3 .500 .610

Bamba polished his game on King Towers Court, where he said trash talk never stopped. He leaves the trash-talking on the court and conducts interviews with a maturity for a teenager.

In an October interview on the Game Day set at DKR Memorial Stadium, Bamba spoke about his hometown.

“Growing up in Harlem you see things that you’re not supposed to see,” Bamba said. “You kind of just have to go through it. You have a choice every day. You see these things and you either become it or you become better than it. I just decided to do things at a different level and be better than what’s around me. I mean, there’s this assumption that you are what you’re around. You’re a product of your environment. I just want to be the guy to defy that.”

The Azubuike-Bamba matchup will be fascinating to watch, as will the battle between one of the nation’s top 3-point-shooting teams (Kansas) and one of the best 3-point-defending squads (Texas).

Bamba’s shot-blocking ability won’t come into play vs. Azubuike, whose dunks and hooks don’t get blocked, as much as against Jayhawks driving to the hoop.

And then there is the suspense as to whether Texas point guard Andrew Jones (hairline fracture of the wrist) will play after missing four games. Even if Jones does play — the best guess is he won’t — Kerwin Roach, UT’s best defender is the best equipped to guard Devonte’ Graham.