Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Tom Keegan: Ochai Agbaji, KU’s stealth recruit, fits right in

Blue Team guard Ochai Agbaji comes in for a dunk before a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Blue Team guard Ochai Agbaji comes in for a dunk before a scrimmage on Tuesday, June 5, 2018, at the Horejsi Athletic Center.


Topeka — His junior year soccer season at Oak Park High in Kansas City, Mo., was winding down, basketball season around the corner, when Ochai Agbaji received a couple of scholarship offers to play Division I basketball.

That was when he decided to finish up his soccer career to concentrate on basketball.

Miami of Ohio and the Air Force Academy offered him an opportunity to use basketball to pay for his education. Little did he know then that it was the beginning of a recruitment that a little more than a year later would explode.

“Division I, Miami of Ohio, good conference,” Agbaji remembered thinking. “To play at a Division I level is something great, so I was really excited.”

He figured, though, that there was plenty of time to choose a school and saw no reason to do so until after finishing his senior season.

Then he was sitting at home one day last December when his text alert shifted his eyes to his telephone and he read words that seemed surreal: “This is Norm Roberts of the University of Kansas.”

“I was like, ‘Wow!’ I was in awe at the time,” Agbaji said Tuesday during a break from working with young campers at Brett Ballard’s Washburn University basketball camp.

He quickly showed the text message to his parents.

“They were excited, too,” he said.

He committed in early February.

“I could have dragged it out,” he said. “My plan originally was to wait until after my basketball season to commit, but once that came along, what else could I ask for in a school?”

A late-blooming, high-flying 6-foot-5 shooting guard, Agbaji is one of seven newcomers on this coming season’s basketball team. Four were McDonald’s All-Americans, including junior transfer Dedric Lawson. Two others, K.J. Lawson and Charlie Moore, already have averaged in double figures for Division I programs.

Yet, if the fanfare surrounding the other six newcomers makes Agbaji feel the slightest bit insecure, he certainly doesn’t show it.

Humble, respectful, smart, friendly, comfortable and confident in his ability to help make whatever basketball team for which he plays better is how Agbaji comes across.

“Obviously, they recruited me for a reason,” Agbaji said. “They wanted me for a reason, so I feel like it's a place I belong. I’m working to get better for me, for the school, for the program.”

The best way to get better is to stand up to challenges from talented players with more experience. Agbaji’s smile reveals how much he’s enjoying competing against so much talent.

“Obviously, it’s a big difference,” he said. “It’s just faster. Guys are much more athletic (than in high school), same speed, same caliber as you. It’s something different, but it’s fun.”

His father, Olofu Agbaji, came to a prep school from Nigeria at age 17 and played college basketball at UW Milwaukee, averaging 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds as a senior.

His mother, Erica, is from Milwaukee and also played at UWM. Ochai’s sister, Orie, plays volleyball for Texas. Erica and Olofu started their family in Milwaukee and moved to Kansas City when Ochai was 6, about the age of some of the children to whom he taught basketball Tuesday.

He said the English translation of his Nigerian name is “King of Children.” The campers treated him as such, but something tells me Agbaji’s head never will grow too big for any crown to fit on it.


Steve Quatrocky 1 year, 7 months ago

Bill's being coy with Lagerald because it will take oppty away from Ochai and if Lageralds head isnt right, Ochai has more potential because of his superior attitude. Thats why he's giving Vick every oppty to find a school where he can be a star or go to the G League so if he comes back to KU, he's very humble and understands there are no expectations for PT over anyone else, its a new team, with a lot more depth than last year and everybody is competing..

RJ King 1 year, 7 months ago

Vick's Mom should never have said he's definitely not returning to KU. The door would open lot wider if they had said they were going to the combine and not hiring an agent to see how it goes. Vick could now return (or not) with head held high and just pick up where he left off. I very much like Lagerald, but it didn't need to be so complicated, and with negative overtones.

Steve Corder 1 year, 7 months ago

Great recruiting and recognition of talent by KU's Self/staff.

Marius Rowlanski 1 year, 7 months ago

I I think we were very fortunate in signing OA but the Air Force Academy had to have been A tough decision to turn down.

But that's from my perspective. I'm sure OA picked Kansas because he felt KU would give him the best opportunities for his future.

Dustin Thorne 1 year, 7 months ago

With the depth we have this year and nearly all positions, I can see OA and Lightfoot possibly being asked to redshirt. Now I could be totally off my rocker but I can see it as a win-win for the future of the Jayhawks! I would just hate to waste quality talent because I don't see a whole lot of PT for each one of these guys. That's coming from a huge Lightfoot fan! I hope someone can put up a good argument regarding this but I can see it as a positive situation!

Marius Rowlanski 1 year, 7 months ago

I think you made a compelling argument for redshirting OA and Lightfoot but I don't see Self redshirting either player but at most only one. I'm pretty sure he's tired of seeing players sitting on the bench ineligible to play.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 6 months ago

I highly doubt he's tired of it since he keeps picking up transfers. I think he actually likes it as it makes the practice squad much better which makes the team better because of practice competition. It also gives him an extra year to mold those players into what he wants them to be physically, mentally, and from a skills standpoint.

Mallory Briggans 1 year, 6 months ago

Looking at the guard situation Grimes starter from day 1..... .Moore and Dotson will see major minutes Garrett ….yes Self played him as freshman so hoping his offense will improve he will get his time on the floor. Then there is Sam ……..Self said he plans on working Sam in the rotation I want to see that happen ,oh yeah don't forget Mr Lawson who can contribute . So OKC may see that reshirt but it wont be a bad thing .Even if Coach Self played 4 guards and 1 big OKC probably wouldn't see much playing time But with 5 bigs the 4 guard days are over...

OKC has already won …….he went from a unknown to being on a potential team that make a NC run...Redshirt season or not ….he already won


Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 6 months ago

Oklahoma City of course...

I suspect they are talking about Ochai Agbaji but I have no idea where they got OKC from as there is no K in that name at all.

Mallory Briggans 1 year, 6 months ago

Tom and Shannon let me shed some light on why I call Ochai ……….OKC

When he first signed with KU someone posted that because his name was a bit different he needed a nickname, so when I thought of OKC it was my reference of him ….. O is the first letter in his first name And since he is from Kansas City …...that's where the KC comes in to play. That is not an official nickname but when I reference him that is what I will use So that's my explanation

Tom Jones 1 year, 6 months ago

Gotcha. Expect more of the same befuddlement should you choose to continue using that "nickname". :-)

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