Thursday, February 8, 2018

Rising KC prospect Ochai Agbaji commits to Kansas

Oak Park High guard Ochai Agbaji drives to the rim during a recent high school game against Liberty North in the William Jewell Tourney last December. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound wing recently became one of the hottest unsigned prospects in the country after picking up offers from Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. On Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, Agbaji committed to KU during a ceremony at his high school.

Oak Park High guard Ochai Agbaji drives to the rim during a recent high school game against Liberty North in the William Jewell Tourney last December. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound wing recently became one of the hottest unsigned prospects in the country after picking up offers from Kansas, Nebraska, Oregon, Texas A&M and Wisconsin. On Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, Agbaji committed to KU during a ceremony at his high school.


Already armed with a star-studded 2018 recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation by, the Kansas men's basketball program added to its haul on Thursday with a pledge from Oak Park High guard Ochai Agbaji, who orally committed to join the Jayhawks during a 2 p.m. ceremony at his school.

Seated with his parents at a table on the gymnasium floor, Agbaji's short-and-sweet ceremony featured a handful of thank-yous followed by the Oak Park guard unzipping his black jacket to reveal a blue KU shirt and Jayhawk hat.

Agbaji (pronounced Och-eye Uh-bah-gee), currently unranked by and listed as a 3-star, No. 328-ranked player in the country by 247 Sports' composite rankings, picked KU just five days after receiving a scholarship offer from Bill Self and the Jayhawks.

In a phone interview with the Journal-World, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound wing said getting the offer from Kansas both sped up and added a significant amount of excitement to the process.

“I talked with my family after I had been offered and it was just like, 'What else are we really looking for,'” Agbaji told the Journal-World. “We didn't have a specific school in mind and we could easily see this being the right fit for me.”

Despite Agbaji's current low ranking, it's already clear that his tie to Kansas has put him on the map.

“We played (Tuesday) night and I actually brought a crowd out just because people knew KU had offered me,” Agbaji said. “That was pretty wild.”

So was his stat line.

The 6-foot-5, do-it-all wing scored 35 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished five assists, numbers that were just slightly better than the 29 points and 14 boards he dropped last week with KU coach Bill Self and former KU coach Larry Brown in the building.

It was Agbaji's all-around game that seemed to most impress the KU coaching staff. It also netted him offers from Nebraska, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; and Wisconsin, all of them coming late in a process that yielded just one offer — from UMKC — through December.

“That's a strength for me,” Agbaji said of his versatility. “I can post up, I can drive, I can shoot. But something that I really want to work on is handling the ball better. I wouldn't say I'm bad but to get around elite defenders and stuff like that, I really need to work on that.”

Regarded by many as the best all-around player in the Kansas City area, Agbaji, who averaged 23 points and six rebounds a game as a junior, is averaging 28 and 10 this season and played AAU ball for MOKAN Elite, has drawn comparisons to former KU wing Travis Releford, who played at Kansas from 2008-13 after an incredible high school career at Bishop Miege High. Agbaji told the Journal-World that even Self said he reminded him of Releford and the Oak Park senior said he wanted to bring many of the same things to Lawrence that Releford delivered during his time as a Jayhawk.

“I just feel like I can come in and be tough and be a sit-down defender and just work hard to make the team better,” Agbaji said. “That's what they're really looking for and I can shoot the ball, too. Coach Self said when he watched me that my defense was one thing he saw, that I have a good stance, good slide and stuff like that. It's an honor, honestly, to receive that praise from the best of the best. It's just exciting.”

Agbaji, whose father is from Nigeria and whose sister, Orie, plays volleyball at Texas, said he made up his mind on Sunday night — just over 24 hours after the offer came from Self and KU assistant Norm Roberts — and spent the next few days both looking forward to his commitment ceremony and preparing for Friday's rematch with North Kansas City, one of the two teams to beat Oak Park this season.

“That's the reason why I kind of cut it off short and said KU,” said Agbaji, whose name means “King of Children” in Nigerian. “I just wanted to get all that pressure off and focus on going as far as we can in the postseason.”

The Oak Park senior becomes the fifth player in KU's 2018 class, joining five-star guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes and Top 40 big men Silvio De Sousa, who already is with the team but still counts in the 2018 class, and David McCormack.

With De Sousa already having a scholarship and Dotson, Grimes and McCormack taking the scholarships made available by the combined departures of Billy Preston, Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, adding an additional player — or two; KU remains in the hunt for five-star guard Romeo Langford — would put Kansas at least one player over the scholarship limit and create an interesting situation heading into the offseason.

There would, of course, be all kinds of options — not to mention time — for Self and company to figure out the numbers crunch. And with Lagerald Vick, Udoka Azubuike and Malik Newman all having been kicked around as potential early-departures, and transfers always being an option, it's not hard to see how Kansas could make any scenario work, should the need arise.


Dee Shaw 4 years, 6 months ago

This kid just a few weeks ago had one offer from UMKC. Now he's headed to Kansas. WOW. Not bad. Welcome to the Jayhawk Family. Rock Chalk Jayhawk. Nice to get a local kid.

Clara Westphal 4 years, 6 months ago

Glad to see someone local get signed at KU. There have been many good players come to KU from that area. Best wishes for his future.

Joe Joseph 4 years, 6 months ago

Of the current eligible players, who is the most likely to transfer? Sam Cunliffe makes the most sense, especially given that Agbaji plays the same position.

Most likely to declare for the NBA early? I don't think any are likely to get drafted, but I could see both Newman and Vick opting to play professionally elsewhere. Possibly Dok?

Allan Olson 4 years, 6 months ago

Joe, only need one scholarship to open up for Abgaji. Likely will be Cunliffe. What other player would voluntarily leave this team for cheap rooms and free bus rides?

Shannon Gustafson 4 years, 6 months ago

The problem with Cunliffe is he already lost a year transferring here and he's only got 5 years to use his 4 years of eligibility so if he transfers again, he sits a year because of transfer rules AND loses a year of eligibility. So he'd only be able to use 3 of his years in the 5 year window. It's just hard to believe he'd be willing to sit 2 out of 5 years. I could see a redshirt if he needs more time to improve, and for some playing time to open up on the team if Grimes leaves after next year, and Vick/Newman are for sure gone after next year, etc.

With that said, transfers, and leaving for the draft or overseas doesn't always make sense so anything is possible.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 6 months ago

I thought about Cunliffe maybe redshirting but it comes down to the same problem of having sat out 2 of his 5 eligible years. Sam definitely needs to take time and talk to HC Self about his possible role here. Even if he stays, we will still be guard heavy next season.

Gerry Butler 4 years, 6 months ago

Cunliffe if your thinking he is going to transfer out I think your barking up the wrong tree. Sam isn't going to transfer again and have to sit out yet another year and no competition. you only get like5 yrs to play4 it's just not going to happen unless he would transfer to an NAIA or division 2 school MAYBE

Brian Leslie 4 years, 6 months ago

Sam had half of a freshman season and half of a sophomore season. He sat out in-between, but he didn't burn a red-shirt season. If he transferred, he would (again) sit out for a year, that time burning the red-shirt, then have a full junior and senior season left.

I think that Sam is going to be in pretty much the same place on the depth chart for 2 more seasons and would have to consider that option, unless he is just in love with the KU experience and thinks he could be in the rotation as (I guess) a senior. He was a strange fit from the start, showing up at ASU with a documentary film crew. I don't see him ever supplanting Garrett, for example.

I don't personally have anything against Sam, but it's clear that he has not earned Self's trust.

Allan Olson 4 years, 6 months ago

Think its super that KU coaches see a reminder of Releford. This kid will have to perfect the EURO-STEP. I have, like many of you, watched more than a few KC area high school basketball games so far this year on TV. No one producers his levels of points and rebounds, and not consistently be double or triple teamed. Yet he produces these numbers against 5A and 6A competition. Its been a long since that happened before. And, every top area HS age baller has played for MOKAN Elite, including Trae Young and Michael Porter very recently. I'm going to watch the upcoming TV schedules more carefully for Oak Park High!

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 6 months ago

Just like Releford, Ochai may be a candidate for a "red shirt" somewhere along the way. Of course, if he continues to rise up the charts, who knows.

Depending upon what Malik and Lagerald do, KU is already loaded at the guard and wing positions for next year with Garrett, Dotson, Grimes, Moore, Cunliffe, and the smaller Lawson brother. Add Malik and/or Lagerald, and there won't be enough playing time to go around. Not a bad problem to have, however. It might lend itself to more pressure defense.

Tony Bandle 4 years, 6 months ago

Here is how this will work:

1] Sam transfers to a Division 2 school so he can play right away.

2] His scholarship goes to OKAY [my way to remember him] who immediately red shirts as a freshmen.

3] That frees up playing time for Langford at the wing who will be a OAD,

4] OKAY takes Langford's spot for the 2019/20 season with a year of practice against the big boys and a year of training with the big girl, Hudy.

5] As a fifth year senior, OKAY becomes an All-American and a lottery pick!

You all heard it here first!!!!!!

Allan Olson 4 years, 6 months ago

You have one major flaw in your reasoning. Redshirts still need to be on an athletic scholarship...unless they have a full ride academic one. Or, their family pays every single education and athletic expense. No costs covered by KU.

Jesse Johnson 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't get it. Sam averaged 10 points a game as a true freshman playing in only his first 10-12 games for Arizona State, who handled us this year in AF, and everyone thinks he sucks and should just transfer or something?

Allan Olson 4 years, 6 months ago

Rather than try to play 13 very talented basketballers, within a normal rotation of 9 to 10, KU coaching staff will likely need to redshirt 2 guys for next season. And its not going to be any of the current first 6 in the rotation. Nor will it be any of the 3 transfers now on scholarship. And, not any of the 3 McD All America recruits. With a departing Cunliffe, that leaves Vick and Abgaji to become five year players. After next season is over, at least 2 maybe up to 4 guys, might leave for the big money. Would be smart to reload with own redshirts. After the last two seasons, it will be great finally having an embarrassment of riches!

Mike Bennett 4 years, 6 months ago

I question whether Vick will be here. He seems to working himself into Self's doghouse. I don't see him coming out. By now, he should know what's expected, and if he's not giving it, I don't see Self spending a lot more time with him trying to get it.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 6 months ago

Agbaji is like a hidden gem. We'll soon see this guy will be ranked just as high as other top 50 in the nation. He's still growing, that's a scary but good thing. At this point, ranking means nothing. But his commitment to Kansas will only strengthen our already-stacked-up-with-ballers team.. Great pick!

David Robinett 4 years, 6 months ago

I sure hope he is not a sit down defender!

Matt Stone 4 years, 6 months ago

I am torn. Although I like getting Ochai, I think Cunliffe is a better athlete with great work ethic. If we had any shot at Langford that is all but gone. Guessing Newman goes to draft and think that would be best option for all involved. Dok should come back for another year but may be convinced that he is big enough to play in NBA. Would love to have him back to keep frontline depth strong as he needs to work on a few things. Vick should come back too as he isn't ready to move to NBA either. I could see Vick actually transfer if there becomes bad blood.

Robert Brock 4 years, 6 months ago

It’s clear that KU will not be getting Romeo Langford.

Chris DeWeese 4 years, 6 months ago

KU will find a way to make room for Romeo (if he wants to come here).

Edward Warren 4 years, 6 months ago

KU steals another one. This kid can play. Defense? We will see about that. Ochai made a good decision. It was interesting that Larry Brown went to watch him.

Vick isn't ready for the NBA. I doubt he will be at KU next year with all the new talent coming in. I never liked him as a player.

Dok is still rough around the edges. He is one dimensional on offense. Needs at least one more year.

Cunliffe could be back and will get better if he stays. He is an athlete. I can't see Newman getting drafted.

It is a shame we didn't have Billy Preston this year. What a waste. Certainly helped out Lightfoot though who improves with every game.

Steve Zimmerman 4 years, 6 months ago

Vick might consider going elsewhere. He's better off that way. I don't think coach will use him, as you said, looking at the new talents coming in. But, he's still a Jayhawk. Respect him as a KU player.

Rob Byrd 4 years, 6 months ago

Yeah Harlan, wouldn't that be fun to watch? A WVU/ARKANSAS "40 MINIUTES OF HELL" defense, coupled with UNLV/LOYOLA MARYMOUNT offense? Yee haa!!!

Brad Avery 4 years, 6 months ago

Travis Releford was a great college basketball player for KU. Anyone to whom he is compared has a lot to live up to. Welcome to Kansas basketball, Mr. Agbaji.

Mike Greer 4 years, 6 months ago

Given the amount of talent already either on the team or eligible next year, does anyone really think KU has a prayer at getting Langford? There will likely be a scholarship available, but I seriously doubt it gets used by Langford.

Playing on the practice team and playing on the rotation team and in Big XII games are two different things. Sam's eligibility just came at a bad time. With the loss of Preston for the season, there hasn't been much opportunity for him to move up the learning curve and get time in games. Next year will be different, I believe and all the time he has put in will pay off. If Vick gets back to his "old self ", the player he was when the season started he'll be fine, if he doesn't then, well he's going to see a lot of pine. I agree with everyone who thinks Dok needs another year, he really does.

Tom Jones 4 years, 6 months ago

Confused about the Preston remark...if anything, Preston leaving left the door wide open for Sam, not the other way around. Sam apparently just hasn't walked through it yet.

Marius Rowlanski 4 years, 6 months ago

I disagree. Preston leaving doesn't affect Sam in any way. If anything, it enabled Lightfoot.

RJ King 4 years, 6 months ago

Mike's not saying Cunliffe could've have slid into Preston's spot.

I think he meant that having Preston likely would've meant KU would have large enough leads - or even playing WITH a lead - that Cunliffe would've seen more time, less quick hook.

Andy Tweedy 4 years, 6 months ago

Man, I really hate all the talk about current Jayhawks moving on when they're on campus, working hard to represent our university. I'll let the coaching staff and time figure out how this all works out, I'm not pushing anybody out the door if they love this university half as much as I do! Welcome aboard!!!

Mike Bennett 4 years, 6 months ago

I don't understand the optimism some have with Cunliffe. He's been here over a year and can't get on the floor on a depth challenged squad. Garrett has clearly passed him in the rotation. I'd be surprised if he stays with all the talented freshmen coming in.

Harlan Hobbs 4 years, 6 months ago

As many have said, Langford's decision doesn't come down to who has a scholarship available. Believe me, if he wants to go somewhere, there will be a scholarship for him.

If he is a true one and done, then KU is not his top destination, especially if he wants to be given "the keys to the car" like what Lon Kruger did for Trae Young. Face it, Young is a tremendous talent who has a bright NBA future starting next year. However, OU is 6-5 in the conference with him leading the show on a team that had a lot of returning players. When they played us last year in Lawrence, all Fran Fraschilla could talk about what how good OU would be this year with their returning players. That was even before Young made his decision.

For the above reasons and many more, I will take Bill Self and his staff over Lon Kruger any day.

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