Kansas basketball player spotlight: Sophomore Ochai Agbaji

LAWRENCE, KANSAS - JANUARY 21: Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after a basket during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Allen Fieldhouse on January 21, 2019 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LAWRENCE, KANSAS - JANUARY 21: Ochai Agbaji #30 of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts after a basket during the game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Allen Fieldhouse on January 21, 2019 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Kansas basketball team is heading into the 2019-20 season with high expectations… again. But with such a loaded roster, available minutes will be hard to come by. In this article series, we will explain what fans should expect from each player this season. Today, we spotlight sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji.

Last Season: Kansas basketball’s Spark plug

Ochai Agbaji’s freshman season with Kansas basketball was as unconventional as any player in recent memory. The typical Jayhawk freshman tends to struggle during the early portion of the non-conference schedule and then begins to shape into mid-season form once conference play rolls around. Agbaji didn’t have that luxury.

Due to an abundance of talent in the backcourt, Kansas coach Bill Self’s original plan was to redshirt Agbaji for the entire 2018-19 season. However, that plan quickly changed as that said backcourt struggled to find consistency on the offensive end.

Following a blowout loss to Iowa State on the road three days prior, Agbaji’s redshirt was pulled on January 8th — Just in time for a key matchup against the no. 25 TCU Horned Frogs in Allen Fieldhouse.

The task ahead of Agbaji would be difficult for any player at any level of basketball to handle, let alone a 3-star freshman.

For two straight months, he watched games in his street clothes, now, he’s expected to make an immediate impact against some of the toughest opponents in the country. But when the lights came on and it was time for him to produce, the 6-5 shooting guard from Kansas City, MO responded with fireworks.

Agbaji’s first moment as a Jayhawk looked like this:

That play only resulted in two points on the scoreboard, but for a Kansas — a team that struggled to score, struggled with athleticism, and struggled with energy — that play was a win in itself.

Often times in college basketball, your plan doesn’t work out. No matter how talented or well-coached a team is, it will happen to them eventually. And when that happens, it’s imperative to have players capable of making impact plays by utilizing their athleticism. Agbaji is one of those players.

He only averaged 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds on the year, but every game he made a multitude of plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet. Whether that’s diving for loose balls, locking down players on defense, or energizing his teammates with his effort and attitude, Agbaji made his presence felt in all aspects of the game.

There were many times where he struggled with his outside shooting, but he never struggled with energy or effort. Overall, he excelled in his role as Kansas’ spark plug in 2018-19.

Role/Expectations in 2019-20: Two-way star 

Agbaji’s role on last year’s Kansas basketball team was to mostly be an energy creator, but in 2019-20, the stakes have raised substantially.

Building off an impressive freshman campaign, Agbaji is expected to be a two-way star for the Jayhawks.

When playing at his best last season, Agbaji proved that he’s much more than a high-flying dunk specialist. With elite size, speed, and athleticism for a guard, Agbaji shined game in and game out on the defensive end last year. But while his season numbers don’t necessarily confirm it, he showed flashes of brilliance on the offensive end as well.

In 22 games last season, Agbaji recorded three 20-point and seven 10-point performances. In those games, Agbaji shot a combined 57% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc.

The only thing that kept Agbaji from being a “great” player was the inconsistency in his jump shot. He started the year on a hot streak, but by the season’s end, it was evident that he’d lost the confidence he once had. He finished the year shooting just over 30% from 3.

But there is plenty of room for optimism in regards to his shooting. Guards who participate in the Bill Self summer internship program are notorious for making major improvements to their game in a year’s time.

With Udoka Azubuike, David McCormack, and Silvio De Sousa all returning this season, the Jayhawk frontcourt is going to attract a lot of attention from defenses down low. That means driving lanes, lobs, and corner 3’s will be readily available for the guards. Agbaji’s game is centered around making plays at the rim, that’s never going to change. But if he’s able to improve his 3-point percentage by just 4-6 percent, he will take this team, and his NBA Draft stock, to a new level.

READ MORE: Ochai Agbaji has the potential to be a first-rounder

But even if Agbaji somehow becomes one of the best shooters in the country this year, the offense will still run through Devon Dotson and Azubuike. They are without a doubt the best and most important players on the team. If they get injured or have a down year, Kansas basketball will not win a national title.

While Dotson is Batman and Azubuike is Robin for the Jayhawks this season, even two of the world’s greatest heroes can’t complete missions on their own. That’s where Agbaji comes in — he will be the Alfred Pennyworth for the Jayhawks (Alfred Pennyworth is Batman’s right-hand man that helps him complete missions behind the scenes).

Also. Preseason Big 12 basketball rankings heading into the 2019-20 season. light

Anyway, Agbaji won’t light the world on fire in 2019, but he will take a big step offensively as the consistent third option for the Jayhawks.

2019-20 Ochai Agbaji Prediction: 13 ppg, 6 rpg, All-Big 12 second team, Big 12 all-defensive team