Junior swingman retains agent
In a statement released by the university, Azubuike announced his intention to enter the NBA draft and not return for his senior season.
"I know all the implications of signing with an agent," Azubuike said. "I believe I am ready and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get better before the draft. I want to make it clear that this is my decision but my family is solidly behind me."
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Azubuike averaged 14.7 points per game and was second on the team in rebounding this season at 4.7 per game. Kentucky finished 28-6 and lost to Michigan State in the Austin regional final of the NCAA tournament.
This is not Azubuike's his first flirtation with the NBA.
During his senior season at Victory Christian School in Tulsa, Okla., Azubuike openly spoke about jumping straight from high school into the NBA, but instead chose to sign with Kentucky. He scored 3,530 points during his prep career, second-best in Oklahoma history, and averaged 39.1 points and 13.3 rebounds per game as a senior.
The NBA draft is June 28.
Azubuike averaged 3.7 points per game in 31 games as a freshman reserve before breaking into the starting lineup at the start of his sophomore season. As a sophomore, he averaged 11.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game and emerged as a defensive stopper for the Wildcats.
Kentucky went 87-15, won two Southeastern Conference titles and twice appeared in a NCAA tournament regional final during Azubuike's career.
"Kelenna has been a model student-athlete and will be sorely missed," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said in a statement. "He's done everything we've asked him to do since he's been at UK and we'll do everything we can to help him achieve his goals and dreams."
During Smith's eight years as Kentucky's coach, only one other player has forfeited his senior season of eligibility with the Wildcats: Nazr Mohammed in 1998. Mohammed was the final player chosen in the first round of that year's NBA draft.
Another player, Marquis Estill, could've pursued a final season of eligibility, but chose not to do so and entered the NBA draft in 2003. He went undrafted.
In recent years, Kentucky players Tayshaun Prince in 2001 and Keith Bogans in 2002 each declared for the NBA draft following their junior seasons, only to reconsider and return. Both were drafted following their senior seasons.
Azubuike's situation is complicated by an impending federal prison sentence facing his father, Kenneth Azubuike. In November, a U.S. Bankruptcy court jury found the elder Azubuike guilty of 41 federal counts alleging he had defrauded investors, banks and the court.
The charges alleged that Kenneth Azubuike committed bank fraud and wire fraud, made false statements to banks and engaged in interstate transportation of stolen property.
A federal judge in Oklahoma ordered him to report by April 17 for a four-year prison sentence, to be served at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press