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Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji sitting on a golden opportunity; all he has to do is take it

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Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji finishes off a dunk during a game against Saint Joseph's on Friday Nov. 27, 2020. The Jayhawks earned a 94-72 win over the Hawks in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.

Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji finishes off a dunk during a game against Saint Joseph's on Friday Nov. 27, 2020. The Jayhawks earned a 94-72 win over the Hawks in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. by Photo by Chris Tilley

After weeks of working on his game and debating the decision to turn pro or return to college, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji announced Tuesday that he was coming back to KU for his senior season.

While no one ever has – or likely ever will — confused Agbaji for a Devonte’ Graham type of personality, he has the opportunity to follow in Graham’s footsteps and be the face of the program during the upcoming season. All he has to do is take it.

If he does, that could go a long way toward helping his NBA draft stock for 2022, as well.

While Agbaji’s testing numbers and measurements at the combine in June put him in good standing as a draftable NBA player, it was his performance during the two combine scrimmages that seemed to hurt his stock.

Rather than asserting himself as a player who can get his own shot and take over a game, Agbaji was too quick to blend into the scrimmages and often disappeared from the action as a result.

He’s not the type of player — or person — to dribble the leather off of the basketball and look to get his before considering the good of the team. So don’t expect a major transformation during the 2021-22 season. After all, he will have plenty of talent around him.

But don’t be surprised for a second if you see Agbaji assert himself much more in every aspect of the game during his senior season. It’s his last opportunity. He has earned the right to do so. And this team will benefit if he does it.

Playing with a point guard like Remy Martin, who can consistently get him open looks, will help. Martin also made his return to college official on Tuesday. Playing with other bona fide shooters, who can space the floor and create driving lanes, also can help.

But beyond either of those two factors, which will make up a huge part of Agbaji’s draft portfolio for 2022, the 2021-22 season will present Agbaji with the opportunity to finish things off in style.

And we’re not just talking about playing in front of 16,300 fans every night and vying for a trip to the Final Four and a run at a national title.

We’re talking serious buzz, big smiles, bright lights and memorable moments.

I’ll never forget watching Graham come out of the stands at Late Night during his senior year. He had flare. He had style. He had the entire building hanging on his every move. It was as if some combination of Justin Bieber and The Beatles walked into the building at that very moment.

Graham was naturally gifted in that department. So shining in those moments came easy for him. Beyond that, he had earned the right to have that moment. After dutifully waiting in the wings and playing as a key role player during the three seasons leading up to that, that team had become Graham’s.

Agbaji also has earned that moment. So why not take it?

It might not be as natural for him to cut loose like that. But he should not be afraid to try. Confidence can do crazy things for a basketball player. And if Agbaji approaches his senior season with that Devonte’ Graham type of mentality, he has the talent, ability and opportunity to play at an All-American type level.

Doing that would improve his draft stock and better prepare him to be a pro. And, in hindsight, it also would make his decision to return to school for one more run look like a very smart one.

Comments

Rodney Crain 2 months, 1 week ago

So… his nickname would be Charlie? Who is Willy Wonka? OA compared to Graham is a reach even on here. Would love to know what he heard from the NBA teams after those weak scrimmages. On a true positive, Graham's YT video of him with his German Sheppard Charlotte will put a smile on your face.

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

If you read that and deduced that I was comparing Agbaji to Graham, I can't help you. In fact, it says in the second paragraph that no one ever has or ever will confuse Agbaji with Graham...

One more time, just for you, I'll explain it to see if that helps: I was merely pointing out that Agbaji has a similar opportunity now that he has decided to return and if he attacks it the right way it could work out very well for him.

Have a great rest of your day!

Rodney Crain 2 months, 1 week ago

Sorry Matt but your disclaimer does not jive with the way the article reads. When Dirk see's it too, I think your approach was likely confusing or at least off target. Using the Golden Ticket idea, and mentioning Graham numerous times from beginning to end did not help either. I loved Devonte and his senior year it was HIS "Golden Ticket" team and he had a great ride. OA last year lead the team in either, assists, rebounding, or scoring under 10 times last year, Devonte lead the team in the same stats his senior year 50+ times. That is going to be a lot of "asserting" for OA to stand out, especially with Remy on the team. He will defer to Remy as face of our team during the season. This article was a reach. Seriously try watching Devonte's short video about his dog, it might cheer you up.

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

Hey, man. That’s fair. I won’t argue with any of it. I still think the premise is right and something we can agree on — Ochai has a great opportunity ahead of him.

And even though I was not intending to compare him to Graham (and am still not) I can see why the repeated mentioning of him made it a little confusing. My bad.

Bottom line: Ochai made the right decision & for him to really make/see it pay off he has to really challenge himself to take full advantage of every single part of his last go around.

Appreciate the feedback & the back and forth on this. The interaction and engagement part of my job has always been a favorite part for me.

Take care!

Barry Weiss 2 months, 1 week ago

This is it for Ochai. He always left you wanting a bit more. Maybe it was because his very first game, I think, he torched the nets for around 30. No more disappearing in games if he wants to go in the first round. He really needs to be on fire this year.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 1 week ago

Though you say you’re not comparing Ochai to Devonte, and I completely agree with you in that, it’s difficult to not come away from the article with a comparison mindset. Rather than talking about DG, maybe more could go into what OA can do. One of the things you remind me of is an article from February of his freshman year (maybe you wrote it Matt?) about OAs leadership even as a freshman.

It seems that Coach Self’s comments are more along the lines of Remy being more like DG though he doesn’t have the KU history. Maybe OA is a better version of Vick with Jalen/Svi, JCL/Malik, and David/Dok, the younger. Probably the biggest difference though is how much more they have around them.

To your point though, Ochai has a great opportunity to elevate his game and perception with the next level this year. It all builds and prepares for March/April. What’s his name seemed to completely change his perception even in just one game, though it was the biggest stage.

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

That's fair. And, yeah, Remy is much much more like Graham in terms of personality. But you hit it on the head when you talked about the opportunity. That's all I was focusing on.

Ochai will have the opportunity to make this his team and be the face of the program as a senior. Those were things that played a huge role in Graham elevating his draft stock, and if Ochai takes advantage of them, I could see it going the same way for him.

A lot of ifs in there. And we'll have to see how it all plays out. But the opportunity is all we're looking at today. And it's there.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 1 week ago

What’s his name at Baylor. Not Teague or Mitchell.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 1 week ago

The 2018 team IIRC, had almost no one behind the starters while this year seems to have someone not only behind each starter but potentially pushing them for minutes. Sometimes it seems that the deficiencies of the reserves are too accentuated vs the benefit of them keeping the starters fresher. Hopefully there’s less drop off to the reserves this year that encourages more minutes distributed.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 1 week ago

I guess I’m not seeing this as much being his team and the face of the program. There have been comments along those lines for years; Sherron might have been the first. Frank, Devonte, and Marcus have been the most recent. Devonte was probably also rather unique in bringing the performance leadership together with the rally the troops leadership. TRob was probably also a bit more that way as well though equally crucial that he had TT as the ball handling leader. TRob obviously had some big performance leadership but it seems to me that even more important was his rally the troops big personality leadership. It elevated everyone around him.

It seems to me that the team’s success will be more related to Ochai’s ability to rally the troops, though I think his effectiveness will be great also. The comparison that comes to mind for me is a bit out there is Coach Leipold, or at least what I’ve heard about him. It sounds like he is effective in his job, but that more of his success stems from his ability to get others to elevate theirs.

Steve Zimmerman 2 months, 1 week ago

It's tougher than what it seems. Ochai will never crack top25 - unless he can prove to be a dependent ball handler, can create his own shots rather than depending on others. Forget about him creating plays for others. He needs to be more selfish if he wants to be more effective. That's the only way for him to elevate his plays. He needs to shine like Graham but not to become a leader like Graham.

There's still hope, but right now, he's still far far away from being NBA ready.

Brian Skelly 2 months, 1 week ago

The reality of this team is it's loaded with players who should at minimum be decent.    And I'd argue 6-7 could be really good.   Ochai is obviously one of those,  and his raw athleticism should help him as it has all along.

My guess a successful run in the Tournament would help his stock,  but he's got to be a big part of it.    Remember, we're kinda loaded.    Im sure early on he'll get his minutes.    Hopefully he's pushed by the fact that he will be pushed for PT from other guys.

If at all meshes together, this could be a great year.

Ben Berglund 2 months, 1 week ago

It was clear you were comparing the respective opportunities of a Senior season for OA & DG, not sure why the reading comprehension issues for other readers, lol

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

I'll take it. Thanks. Old rule in journalism, though... If you're unclear to even one reader, you could've done better. I've always tried to hold myself to that standard. Doesn't always happen (obviously), but that's the goal. Regardless, I'm glad you got it and appreciate the comment!

Ted Hume 2 months, 1 week ago

thanks Matte- and please don't apologize for your consistently high-quality and insightful/informative pieces. I don't think people who never went to J-school realize how incredibly hard it is to just punch out 9oh- and research prior) 5-6 full-length pieces a week. Your discussion of Och's golden senior-year opportunity to do what 'Te did for the team and for his draft stock was CRYSTAL clear.

cheers

Steve Zimmerman 2 months, 1 week ago

Amen. Nice sum here: *It might not be as natural for him to cut loose like that. But he should not be afraid to try. Confidence can do crazy things for a basketball player. And if Agbaji approaches his senior season with that Devonte’ Graham type of mentality, he has the talent, ability and opportunity to play at an All-American type level.

*

Matt Tait 2 months, 1 week ago

Now you guys are just making me blush! I do appreciate the feedback, though. And I'm glad it was clear to you. I liked the angle I had and still think, if you get it, it's right on the money.

More important than anything to do with my writing or your understanding of it is what Ochai does with the opportunity. Should be fun to watch.

Thanks for the kind words, gents!

Ted Hume 2 months, 1 week ago

I should have a copy editor on the desk- apologies MATT!

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