Eventually, someone needs to address the elephant in the room about the elephant in the room.
Seriously, I need to see a birth certificate.
Until then, I won't believe Udoka Azubuike is only 15.
Or rather, "barely 15," as the 5-star prospect suggested at the NBPA Top 100 camp last month.
A center for Nike Team Florida, Azubuike stands 6'10". He weighs 268 pounds. The Nigerian—who has only been in the United States for two years and already has offers from Kentucky and Kansas, among others—has hair on his chest and barrels through defenders as if they were bowling pins. All of this, he says, despite never spending a minute in a weight room.
It truly is a sight to behold.
You could've seen it for yourself at the LeBron James Skills Academy this week in Las Vegas, but NTF coach Tom Topping told me Tuesday that shin splints will likely keep Azubuike on the sideline for the rest of the summer.
I'm genuinely disappointed. I loved watching Azubuike bully opponents at the NBPA Top 100 camp last month and was looking forward to seeing him do it again in Sin City.
Part of me even expected to run into Azubuike at one of Las Vegas' swanky nightclubs. Heck, if I were working the door, I wouldn't card him. I may try to hire him as a bouncer, but I wouldn't question his age.
Unless, of course, he tried to tell me he was 15.
"Honestly, it's a non-issue," Topping said Tuesday. "I've come across a lot of players who look a lot older than they truly are. Greg Oden looked old, but no one questioned his age because he was from the U.S.
"We've seen the documentation (Azubuike) used to get over here. It's not something we're remotely concerned with."
I hope Topping is right about Azubuike, who attends Potter's House Christian in Jacksonville, Florida.
I interviewed him multiple times at the NBPA camp, and he couldn't have been a more likable fellow. Warm and polite, laughed and smiled a lot, no hint of an ego.
"He couldn't be more gentle as a human being," Topping said.
Yes, if I were a coach, I'd want Azubuike on my squad for reasons far beyond his ability to dunk, rebound and swat shots. Azubuike seems like he'd be an ideal teammate, a highly underrated trait.
That's why it'd be so disheartening if Azubuike's reputation were muddied because a coach or handler convinced the vulnerable teen to lie about his age. It'd be a shame if Azubuike turned into high school basketball's Danny Almonte, a Little League pitcher who lied about his age in 2001.
There are certainly reasons to be leery.
The website NBADraft.net lists Azubuike's birthdate as September 17, 1999. That would mean he's still 14. Yet Azubuike told reporters at the NBAP Top 100 camp that he turned 15 in April. Topping said he didn't know Azubuike's exact date of birth, but that it was "his understanding" that it was within the last few months.
Whatever the case, someone is providing inaccurate information.
I've also had two highly respected national recruiting analysts tell me Azubuike's handlers contacted them around this time a year ago saying he was about to turn 15—which would make him 16 now. Again, that doesn't prove anything, but it certainly provides a reason for pause.
Also, how many other newly minted 15-year-olds—especially ones who hardly spoke English a few years ago—are about to begin their junior year of high school? That's the age of many high school freshmen. See what I mean? There are too many inconsistencies, too many red flags. At the very least, the whole thing looks sloppy.
I asked a college head coach this week if he believed Azubuike had recently turned 15.
"Of course he's 15," the coach said, and then he smiled and winked.
I suppose in the end, it really doesn't matter. Even if someone is fibbing, it won't prevent Azubuike from signing with a big-name school before moving on to the NBA. And Azubuike's coaches could argue that there is no reason to lie about his age, as Azubuike is dominating players who (on paper) are two and three years his elder.
Still, until I see a birth certificate, I'll remain skeptical. Even if someone produced such a document, there would likely be questions about its authenticity.
No matter what happens, I'll always remember a group of reporters breaking out into laughter after Azubuike nearly ripped down the backboard while dunking at the NBPA camp last month.
"Fifteen years old?" one of the them said. "Seriously, do they think we're (freakin') stupid?"
Attending the NBPA Top 100 camp and the Steph Curry Select Camp has given me a newfound respect for national recruiting writers such as Eric Bossi (Rivals.com), Jeff Borzello (CBSSports.com) and Evan Daniels (Scout.com). Keeping tabs on hundreds of prospects across the nation isn't an easy job, especially when there are so many school-specific sites trying to contact the players, too. They almost become robotic in their responses to questions, which makes getting decent information out of them even tougher.
I'll spend more time this month watching high-level recruits, but as of now, here are some of the more impressive names I've seen thus far.
Malik Newman, G, Ridgeland, Mississippi:
High-scoring guard is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2015 by Rivals.com. Love his confidence and court presence. Newman has sparked Callaway High School to three straight state titles, which says a lot about his leadership.
Thon Maker, C, Martinsville, Virginia:
Seven-footer runs the court like a guard, passes well and has a soft touch from the outside. I'll be shocked if he doesn't reclassify to the Class of 2015 and sign in the spring. Kansas, Duke, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri are among Maker's suitors, per Rivals.com.
Ben Simmons, F, Monteverde (Fla.) Academy:
The Australian-born Simmons, Rivals.com's top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2015, plays with a high motor that makes him a beast on the offensive glass. Simmons simply outworks everyone—and the LSU pledge is a team-first player, thanks to the instruction he received while attending the Australian Institute of Sport.
Terrance Ferguson, G/F, Dallas:
The 6'6" Ferguson, who will be a junior at Prime Prep Academy, has an NBA skill set. He's an excellent outside shooter who can also put the ball on the floor, and his length makes him a pest defensively.
Derryck Thornton, PG, Henderson, Nevada:
Thornton was the most impressive player at Steph Curry's camp. The NBA star said so himself. Thornton's quickness and ability to beat people off the dribble and shake off defenders is almost unparalleled in the Class of 2016. He tries to do too much at times, but a strong coach will reign him in.
Mitchell Ballock, SG, Eudora, Kansas:
I'll be shocked if this underrated, soon-to-be-sophomore doesn't end up in a Kansas Jayhawks uniform. The 6'5" Ballock won the three-point shooting contest at Curry's camp—he defeated Thornton in the finals—and hardly looked out of place despite being younger than most every player.
*Players I'm looking forward to watching this month: Ivan Rabb, Allonzo Trier, Diamond Stone, Troy Brown Jr., Cheick Diallo, Stephen Zimmerman, Chase Jeter and Elijah Thomas, among others.
Brandon Austin, one of the three players dismissed from Oregon's squad in May following an alleged sexual assault, has found a new home. According to JucoJunction.com, Austin will play next season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
Prosecutors in Eugene, Oregon, declined to pursue a case against Austin and former Ducks Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson because there was insufficient evidence to "prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt," per CollegeBasketballTalk.
Still, the trio was booted from the team and banned from the Oregon campus for up to 10 years due to sexual misconduct. Austin redshirted last season after transferring from Providence, where he'd also been investigated for sexual assault. It would appear Hutchinson C.C. coach Steve Eck is risking a lot by giving Austin another chance.
Austin's former teammates are still searching for a place to play.
Artis was reportedly interested in Cal, but that appears to have fallen apart. Artis took an official visit to St. John's last month, but the Red Storm are no longer recruiting him, according to CSNNW.com.
I love ESPN's decision to hire former Duke and NBA star Shane Battier as a college basketball analyst. Battier is a class act who will do a great job alongside former Blue Devils players Jay Bilas and Jay Williams. That being said, that's a lot former Duke stars. Who knows, maybe 2014 Duke signee Jahlil Okafor will skip college and head straight to the Worldwide Leader...
I'm attending the LeBron James Skills Academy this week in Las Vegas and will spend most of the next three days in the gym. However, if I have a chance to sneak away for a few hours at night, there are a handful of restaurants I'd like to hit.
- Secret Pizza and The Henry at Cosmopolitan
- Naked City Pizza (for the wings)
- N9NE Steakhouse at Palms
- Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood
- Carmine's in the Shops at Planet Hollywood
- Wicked Spoon buffet at Cosmopolitan (mainly for the gelato)
Steph Curry's camp was in Oakland, which gave me the chance to spend some quality time in San Francisco for the first time ever. I loved everything about the city, but from a food standpoint, the trip was an epic fail.
I wanted to hit up a few taquerias near the Mission District. It didn't happen. Instead, I turned the wrong way during an 11 p.m. stroll on Saturday. After about 10 minutes, I decided it'd be wise to hop in a cab and head back to the hotel, where I threw back a half-cylinder of Pringles and a grape Gatorade before hitting the sack.
I was also looking forward to some good seafood a few afternoons later, but Swan Oyster Depot was closed for the holiday. Bleacher Report colleagues Scott Campbell and Tina Sturdevant audibled and suggested I try dim sum for the first time ever. Scott and Tina are nice people, so I'll stop right there and refrain from writing about what happened next.
Plus, I came across a great hot dog stand after getting off the BART in Oakland about 30 minutes later. So I still ended up having a good lunch.
Until next week...
Jason King covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.
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