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Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji's strong shooting season has inspired Bill Self to bring up the name of one of KU's all-time greats

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Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) puts up a 3-pointer over Washburn guard Azeem Ross (3) during the second half on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) puts up a 3-pointer over Washburn guard Azeem Ross (3) during the second half on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji has put a ton of work into retooling his jump shot during his time with the Jayhawks.

And on Thursday, he found out, indirectly, that all of that time and sweat has been worth it.

Sure, his 39% shooting clip (46-for-118), which actually sat well above 40% through mid-January, could have told him that. And, yeah, the fact that he has delivered nine games with three or more 3-point makes and entered the week leading the Big 12 with a mark of 2.7 3-pointers per game — placing him a fraction of a shot ahead of Baylor star Jared Butler — is validation that Agbaji can shoot the ball.

But something that his head coach said during his Thursday meeting with the media may trump all of that.

“I think the best shooter we've had here in recent memory would be Svi (Mykhailiuk),” Self said of the third-year pro who helped rewrite KU’s 3-point shooting record books. “I don't want to say (Ochai is that) pure, but he's getting closer to pure all the time.”

Agbaji’s path to getting to that point has been a long one. Hundreds of hours and thousands of jumpers, along with instruction from his coaches, shooting specialists and feedback from his friends, family and teammates all played a part in him becoming the shooter he is today.

And while that type of work wasn’t entirely necessary for Agbaji to become a good college player, Self believes it was required to turn him into a great one who is capable of leading a team in scoring.

“He used to have a real quick pause at the top, which made it a two-piece shot instead of a one-piece shot,” Self said Thursday. “And he corrected that this summer. His shot is as tight and compact as just about anybody we've had.”

“He's really worked hard on it and gotten his release quicker and become a very, very, very good shooter,” Self said.

Hearing those words, and knowing his coach has confidence in him, has been a key part of the transformation, Agbaji said.

Last week, after Agbaji went 1-for-9 from 3-point range in a KU loss at Tennessee, Self spoke with surprise that more of them didn’t fall and said openly that he liked all of the shots Agbaji took.

“I actually thought he was aggressive early,” Self said of Agbaji’s play against Tennessee in an approving tone. “I think he shot three 3s in one possession (and) I knew the third one would go in. At least, I really thought it would.”

It didn’t. But Agbaji kept firing. That, Self will tell you, is as much the sign of a good shooter as anything. A short memory and assassin’s mentality are both key components of filling that role.

“It just shows how much he trusts me, with my ability to shoot the ball and score the ball,” Agbaji said of Self’s support. “(He’s) not really putting a lot of pressure on me to make shots, but just to play how I always play and how he knows I have to play in these situations, just hitting shots and being confident about my game.”

Agbaji responded to the rough night against Tennessee by hitting a couple early in Tuesday’s win over K-State, and the 6-5 junior from Kansas City, Mo., sounds like a player moving forward with his confidence in tact.

“It felt good,” he said of the makes against K-State. “It just feels good to be back in the rhythm of things, seeing the ball go in.”

Asked to identify his favorite spot on the floor, Agbaji said he did not have just one area on the floor that he prefers to pull from.

“I'd say any of the corners (is where) I feel most comfortable shooting from,” he conceded.

Recruited as an up-and-coming athlete with good size, all-around skill and the potential to grow his game at a rapid rate, Agbaji is quickly becoming known as one of the better shooters around.

Asked if he thinks of himself that way, he smiled slightly and fell back on an answer that fit both his personality and his game.

“It doesn't really matter to me,” he said. “I'd still say I'm just an athlete (and) scorer. But the shooting has come along with my years here, so I see it as a plus.”

Ochai Agbaji's 3-point line

• 2-for-4 vs. Gonzaga

• 2-for-5 vs. Saint Joseph's

• 3-for-9 vs. Kentucky

• 4-for-6 vs. Washburn

• 2-for-7 vs. North Dakota State

• 0-0 vs. Creighton

• 4-for-6 vs. Omaha

• 4-for-7 at Texas Tech

• 3-for-10 vs. West Virginia

• 1-for-6 vs. Texas

• 3-for-6 at TCU

• 3-for-7 vs. Oklahoma

• 4-for-9 at Oklahoma State

• 4-for-7 at Baylor

• 2-for-6 at Oklahoma

• 2-for-9 vs. TCU

• 1-for-9 at Tennessee

• 2-for-5 vs. K-State

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