Jayhawk Insider: A debut to remember
By Charlie Sides
LAWRENCE, Kan.- With a wrist injury sidelining junior big man Udoka Azubuike for the rest of the season, Kansas head coach Bill Self had a difficult decision to make. Freshman guard Ochai Agbaji was set to redshirt his first season with the Jayhawks, but because of the unfortunate circumstances, Self decided to burn Agbaji’s redshirt and add to Jayhawks’ depth and athleticism.
“Sunday night I got a call from Coach Self just saying how he wanted to pull my redshirt. It all came really fast,” Agbaji said. “I had a little bit of hesitation on how much I would play but I thought I did good. I’ve never been in this position before and it was really fun playing with my teammates who put me in the right position.”
The Kansas City native did not earn any division one scholarship offers until his senior year of high school, where he exploded averaging 27.7 points a game and shoot 59 percent to go along with 9.6 rebounds. After earning seven power five offers in 13 days, Agbaji ultimately chose the Jayhawks five days after they officially offered him.
Coach Self is often hesitant when playing his freshman in their first few games, but he threw Agbaji into the fire right away, where the 18-year-old excelled in his 25 minutes on the floor. In fact, it only took him 10 seconds to make an impact, throwing down an alley-oop dunk from Devon Dotson to ignite his team as well as the Allen Fieldhouse crowd.
“I told myself the best way to get rid of his nerves would be to get him an easy basket which would energize the crowd a little bit,” Self said. “Without Dok, I don’t know if we have got three lobs all year long.”
Dedric Lawson, the game’s leading scorer with 31 points, also had high praise for Agbaji.
“He looks so comfortable out there, not rushing everything, making his shots,” Lawson said. “He made game-winning plays. You have to tip your cap to a guy who wasn’t highly recruited and I am glad he played.”
In his 25 minutes, the 6-5 foot freshman scored seven points on three of five shooting with four rebounds and two steals. The box score may not be very appealing, but his play on defense and energy fueled the Jayhawks past TCU for a key 77-68 victory, the Jayhawks’ fifth over a top-25 team this season.
“I thought he was great. He had so much poise and he had never been in a big game,” said Self. “I think he is a pretty cool kid. I did not expect him to play 25 minutes, but I am not surprised he played this well.”
After a disappointing loss to Iowa State on the road, Agbaji was exactly the spark the Jayhawks needed because of his efficiency and veteran-like play on the court. As he continues to compete in conference play, expect Agbaji to give the Jayhawks a major boost as they vie for their 15th-straight Big 12 title.
The Jayhawks hit the road to take on the Baylor Bears on Saturday, Jan. 12 on ESPN. Tip-off from Ferrell Center is set for 3 p.m. Kansas is 30-5 all-time against Baylor, including a 12-3 advantage in Waco with all 15 meetings in the Ferrell Center. The Bears won the last meeting, 80-64, on Feb. 10, 2018, in Waco, ending a Kansas 11-game series winning streak.
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