Originally published March 8, 2022 at 12:10p.m., updated March 8, 2022 at 06:26p.m.
Last summer, when Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji was debating between leaving early or returning to Lawrence for his senior season, KU coach Bill Self sat down with Agbaji and his family and painted a picture of what the talented guard’s immediate future could look like.
“He had a lot to say about, if I came back this season, what it was going to look like, what he sees me being. That was a good visualization for what was to come.”
So what did Self’s vision include?
“Something like this,” Agbaji said Tuesday, just a couple of hours after being named The Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year. “You always expect the best. You always set goals for yourself going into the season. But my main goal was just to win. And everything else would take care of itself.”
The honor Agbaji received on Tuesday was the third major award he had received this week. On Sunday, Agbaji was named Big 12 Player of the Year by the league’s coaches. On Monday, The Sporting News named KU’s leading scorer a first-team All-American.
And as the weeks of March move on, Self believes there are several more honors like those coming Agbaji’s way.
“I think we’re just starting to see it,” Self said of the haul of postseason honors Agbaji is likely to collect.
Self called the KU senior at least a lock second-team All-American in all of the major publications. He believes he’ll be a first-teamer in more than one of them.
All of that, and being able to picture it when Self predicted it last summer, has helped Agbaji both attack it and achieve it. In many ways, Self actually saw it the first time he watched Agbaji play as a senior at Oak Park High in Kansas City, Missouri back in 2018.
“I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, but I can remember this — graceful, moves well, explosive, put it down two dribbles either direction, good form on his shot, smiled all the time,” Self began. “He just had the makings of what could potentially become a really good player. It didn’t take long to figure out that he would be good for us.”
That memory made it all the sweeter when Self was the first to tell Agbaji about the coaches’ player of the year honor last weekend.
“It was something that went from surreal to believable and all that,” Agbaji recalled Tuesday. “It’s just an honor.”
Since talking about himself has never been a strength of Agbaji’s, Tuesday’s news conference was about others, as well.
KU’s Christian Braun earned second-team AP all-conference honors and teammates Jalen Wilson, David McCormack and KJ Adams were honored with postseason nods from the Big 12 coaches.
“I think the best part is all the other guys on the team that got their accolades too,” Agbaji said. “It’s just a product of us winning.”
While that rings true the way it has for countless other all-conference Jayhawks from the past, Self mentioned two on Tuesday that Kansas fans hold in pretty high regard — 2017 national player of the year Frank Mason and 2018 All-American Devonte’ Graham.
“He’s had a remarkable year,” Self said of Agbaji. “I don’t know that he’s had a Frank senior year. But he’s certainly had a Devonte’-type senior year. And we all know that was pretty special what Devonte’ did.
“I’m happy for him,” Self added of Agbaji. “He deserves all the accolades he’s getting, but he also doesn’t need to put pressure on himself because he’s getting the accolades and now (he thinks) he’s got to play at an even higher level. He’s got to find that happy medium where he’s as turned up as he’s ever been but still as relaxed as he’s ever been.”
Coach of the year: Mark Adams, Texas Tech.
Player of the year: Ochai Agbaji, Kansas.
Newcomer of the year: Izaiah Brockington, Iowa State.
The AP all-Big 12 teams, with players listed with school, height, weight, class and hometown:
x-Ochai Agbaji, Kansas, 6-5, 215, Sr., Kansas City, Missouri.
James Akinjo, Baylor, 6-1, 190, Sr., Oakland, California.
Izaiah Brockington, Iowa State, 6-4, 196, Sr., Philadelphia.
Nijel Pack, Kansas State, 6-0, 180, So., Indianapolis.
Bryson Williams, Texas Tech, 6-8, 240, Sr., Fresno, California.
Timmy Allen, Texas, 6-6, 210, Sr., Mesa, Arizona
Christian Braun, Kansas, 6-7, 218, Jr., Burlington, Kansas.
Adam Flagler, Baylor, 6-3, 185, Jr., Duluth, Georgia.
Mike Miles Jr., TCU, 6-2, 195, So., Dallas.
Taz Sherman, West Virginia, 6-4, 190, Sr., Missouri City, Texas.