Chance to step up as leaders played a key role in Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett returning to Kansas

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) comes away with a ball from East Tennessee State guard Patrick Good (10) after it was poked loose by Kansas guard Marcus Garrett (0) during the second half on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

In back-to-back days this week, the Kansas men’s basketball program received official word that two of its top players from the 2019-20 season would be back with the team next season.

This, after learning that the Jayhawks’ top two scorers, sophomore point guard Devon Dotson (early entry) and senior center Udoka Azubuike (graduation), would be moving on.

The return of guards Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett is significant for Bill Self’s Jayhawks in a number of ways. From both stability and statistical standpoints, the two versatile guards should be counted on to give the 2020-21 team a big lift right away.

More than that, though, the two starters who ranked third and fourth on the team in scoring and combined to average 19.2 points per game this season should bring the type of leadership that Self loves to have, upperclassmen he can count on to run the ship.

While Agbaji and Garrett are both naturally gifted leaders, neither has been given a full opportunity to use those skills to carry a team. They’ll get that now and Self believes that fact played a role in their decisions to return.

“There’s a real attractiveness for both Marcus and Ochai to know that this could become their team,” Self told the Journal-World. “They’ve both been good players and everything else, but they have never been in a situation where it was their team. And now they can have that feeling and the responsibility of taking ownership. And (fifth-year senior forward) Mitch (Lightfoot) can say the same thing, as well. So I’m excited for them. I know that’s something that they both want.”

With Garrett expected to jump into the role of senior leader and primary ball handler, what lies ahead for him is drastically different than the roles he has played during his first three seasons in Lawrence.

From rotation player as a freshman to defensive stopper as a sophomore and jack-of-all-trades as a junior, the chance to return to his high school roots as the face of the program and one of the team’s top weapons is very much a part of Garrett’s future.

And, for Agbaji, who still has just a season and a half of experience despite heading into his junior year, he figures to face higher expectations as a go-to scorer on a team that features more than half of its scholarship players as freshmen and sophomores.

Both Agbaji and Garrett have NBA aspirations. And both have made enough of a name for themselves thus far to have at least some of the attention from pro scouts on them when the Jayhawks take the floor next season.

And what kind of marks they get and the opportunities that follow will depend on much more than their numbers on the stat sheet.

“For them to get to where they want to go, they need to have development in that area, to be guys that can carry a group,” Self said.


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