No matter what happens this weekend, Kansas center Udoka Azubuike will have a Final Four to remember.
That’s because his mother, Florence, is scheduled to travel from Nigeria to see her son for the first time since he left to play basketball in the United States in ninth grade. The Nigerian government approved her visa to travel on Thursday, allowing her to fly to San Antonio.
When Kansas tips off against Villanova in their semifinal game Saturday night, it will be the first time she’s ever seen her son play basketball.
“I’m pretty excited,” Azubuike said. “It’s going to be an emotional moment for me.”
The NCAA provides a $3,000 stipend for family members to travel to Final Four semifinal games. That stipend increases to $4,000 for teams in the championship game. In addition to Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa (Africa) and Svi Mykhailiuk (Ukraine) will also have parents make the trip from foreign countries to San Antonio thanks to this NCAA program.
But it was more complicated for Azubuike’s mom to make it here. Officials in Kansas had to work with the U.S. State Department and Nigerian Consulate to not only secure a passport but a travel visa. Kansas coach Bill Self said Azubuike’s mom had to travel a long distance from her home in Delta, Nigeria, just to make it to the meeting to secure her visa Thursday morning.
Azubuike said his mother is scheduled to fly from Nigeria to France and then into the United States, and is expected to arrive sometime Friday evening.
“We want to win the game, but is winning the game more important than to make sure there’s not a little distraction for Doke? Of course not,” Self said. “It will be worth it. Can you imagine, you’ve never seen your son play basketball and the first time you do it is in front of 70,000 people at this thing? I can’t even imagine what’s going to be going through her mind.”
Azubuike played soccer growing up in Nigeria, then started to play basketball as he got older. He attended one camp and drew plenty of attention, and an offer to play high school basketball at Potter’s House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida.
“My mom spoke to the bishop in Jacksonville,” Azubuike said. “My mom is a Christian and when she heard about Christianity and she heard about the church, she was like I’m good with it. That’s how it worked out.”
There was initial trepidation about leaving, but both knew it was the right thing to do. Before they said their goodbyes, his mom handed him a Bible.
“She knew that based on the situation things back home weren’t conducive for me and it was hard back then because we had a lot of bad stuff happening and it wasn’t good for me,” Azubuike said. “When the opportunity came for me to travel to the U.S. to play basketball and to go to school, I didn’t think twice about it. My mom was pretty excited about it, too.”
When asked how he would try to contain his emotions when he sees his mom for the first time, Azubuike said, “It’s going to be nice. I can’t think about it right now.”