Tom Keegan: Local recruiting makes sense for national-powerhouse program

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.

Against the backdrop of stories about ailing team chemistry and Bill Self talking about having to coach effort in February for the first time at Kansas, encouraging news broke on the recruiting front for the 13-time-defending Big 12 champion.

Kansas landed a Kansas City recruit for the first time since Travis Releford (Bishop Miege Class of 2008) when an oral commitment came from late-bloomer Ochai Agbaji, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard from Oak Park High.

In the age of impatient players itching to play right away and, in some cases, hypersensitivity to hard coaching, transfer numbers are on the rise.

Players from the state of Kansas or the Kansas City, Mo., area are less likely to transfer and the uniform tends to mean even more to them.

Given that Kansas has won 13 consecutive Big 12 titles, it’s tough to find ways they could take an even better approach to recruiting, but changing times sometimes necessitate tweaks.

To that end, I wonder if it might be a good idea to save one scholarship from every class for a player from either Kansas City, Mo., or the state of Kansas.

If it became something the coaches discussed publicly, the honor of becoming that one recruit each year would be awfully difficult for any prospect to say anything but “yes” and “thank you” to a scholarship offer. The pride most would take in the uniform would give them the desire to fight for playing time, stick it out until it arrives and add to the stability of the roster during four-year careers.

Self has given scholarships to six such players and all but one worked out well. Conner Frankamp left before the start of his sophomore season and is a senior starter at Wichita State.

Brandon Rush, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Travis Releford and Perry Ellis combined to make 393 starts in 683 games.

At least one Big 12-caliber recruit is available from either Kansas City, Mo., or the state of Kansas every year.

Starting with 2005, here is a look at some of the top players and where they signed:

2005: Rush (Kansas).

2006: Morningstar (Kansas).

2007: Reed (Kansas).

2008: Releford (Kansas) and Marcus Denmon (Missouri).

2009: Michael Dixon (Missouri, transferred to Memphis) and Dorian Green (Colorado State).

2010: Trevor Releford (Alabama).

2011: Ron Baker (Wichita State).

2012: Ellis (Kansas) and Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky).

2013: Semi Ojeleye (Duke, transferred to SMU), Frankamp (Kansas, transferred to Wichita State).

2014: Clayton Custer (Iowa State, transferred to Loyola of Chicago).

2015: Landry Shamet (Wichita State) and Dean Wade (Kansas State).

2016: Jeriah Horne (Nebraska, transferred to Tulsa).

2017: Mitchell Ballock (Creighton).

2018: Agbaji.

Nobody bats a thousand, but KU could come close with local players. Not everyone on the list would have upgraded KU’s roster, but identifying one player each year from this state or KC and recruiting them aggressively might result in rosters with a greater number of emotionally invested, four-year players and experienced reserves.