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The Ochai Agbaji We’ve Been Waiting For

The junior wing has stepped up as a go-to guy offensively thanks to his consistency.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska Omaha at Kansas Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Now in his third year on campus, it’s easy to forget how it started for Ochai Agbaji. Agbaji was planning to redshirt as a freshman, only to have it pulled in January when Kansas needed help due to Udoka Azubuike’s season-ending injury—that need for help was then amplified when Lagerald Vick left the team.

Then Agbaji proved productive from the start, scoring seven points in his first game and 10 the next. People really took notice in game seven when Agbaji dropped 24 and grabbed seven boards on Texas. It didn’t take long for basketball analysts to talk about Ochai Agbaji’s draft potential and ask out loud if he was the best NBA prospect on the roster.

It’s not that Agbaji has been bad since then. He averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds as a freshman in nearly 26 minutes and 10 points and 4.2 rebounds in 33 minutes a game as a sophomore. He had back-to-back 20+ points, 8+ rebound games last year against Colorado and Milwaukee and opened last season with 15 points, six rebounds, and four steals against Duke.

The issue has been consistency. Last season, he never had longer than a two-game stretch of double-digit-point games. Agbaji had 15 double-digit games last year and 16 single-digit games. As a freshman, the most he got were three consecutive double-digit-point games. Fans knew the talent was there. But for whatever reason, Agbaji wasn’t putting it together for long stretches.

That hasn’t been the case this year. Agbaji has been the Jayhawks’ leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, while averaging three fewer minutes per game than last season, and the way he has done it is what fans have been expecting. The goose egg against Creighton is noticeable, but even then he was active in other phases with five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and a block. For the other seven games, these are Agbaji’s stat lines:

  • 17 points, 0 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
  • 18 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block
  • 17 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
  • 16 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 0 blocks
  • 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
  • 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks
  • 23 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 steals, 1 block

Part of it is shooting. Agbaji is currently hitting 47.7% of his 3s after shooting 33.8% last season, while taking one more attempt per game. That’s probably not a sustainable mark, but it’s not crazy that he ends the year in the 38-40% range.

But he’s also been more aggressive. Agbaji is getting to the line for three attempts per game (I’m sure Self would still like that number to be higher) but his first two seasons he averaged just 1.6 attempts. His 2-point percentage has even dropped a bit so far 47.7% (compared to 51.9% last year).

And of course, he has a bigger role in the offense with Devon Dotson and Azubuike now gone to the NBA. But Agbaji still had to prove that he was ready and capable of being a go-to guy in the offense. Jalen Wilson is arguably KU’s best player so far this year, but Agbaji is a clear No. 2 at the moment and is turning into what fans hoped for after those first few games his freshman year.