Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji sitting on a golden opportunity; all he has to do is take it

photo by: Chris Tilley

Kansas junior Ochai Agbaji finishes off a dunk during a game against Saint Joseph's on Friday Nov. 27, 2020. The Jayhawks earned a 94-72 win over the Hawks in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.

After weeks of working on his game and debating the decision to turn pro or return to college, Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji announced Tuesday that he was coming back to KU for his senior season.

While no one ever has – or likely ever will — confused Agbaji for a Devonte’ Graham type of personality, he has the opportunity to follow in Graham’s footsteps and be the face of the program during the upcoming season. All he has to do is take it.

If he does, that could go a long way toward helping his NBA draft stock for 2022, as well.

While Agbaji’s testing numbers and measurements at the combine in June put him in good standing as a draftable NBA player, it was his performance during the two combine scrimmages that seemed to hurt his stock.

Rather than asserting himself as a player who can get his own shot and take over a game, Agbaji was too quick to blend into the scrimmages and often disappeared from the action as a result.

He’s not the type of player — or person — to dribble the leather off of the basketball and look to get his before considering the good of the team. So don’t expect a major transformation during the 2021-22 season. After all, he will have plenty of talent around him.

But don’t be surprised for a second if you see Agbaji assert himself much more in every aspect of the game during his senior season. It’s his last opportunity. He has earned the right to do so. And this team will benefit if he does it.

Playing with a point guard like Remy Martin, who can consistently get him open looks, will help. Martin also made his return to college official on Tuesday. Playing with other bona fide shooters, who can space the floor and create driving lanes, also can help.

But beyond either of those two factors, which will make up a huge part of Agbaji’s draft portfolio for 2022, the 2021-22 season will present Agbaji with the opportunity to finish things off in style.

And we’re not just talking about playing in front of 16,300 fans every night and vying for a trip to the Final Four and a run at a national title.

We’re talking serious buzz, big smiles, bright lights and memorable moments.

I’ll never forget watching Graham come out of the stands at Late Night during his senior year. He had flair. He had style. He had the entire building hanging on his every move.

Graham was naturally gifted in that department. So shining in those moments came easy for him. Beyond that, he had earned the right to have that moment. After dutifully waiting in the wings and playing as a key role player during the three seasons leading up to that, that team had become Graham’s.

Agbaji also has earned that moment. So why not take it?

It might not be as natural for him to cut loose like that. But he should not be afraid to try. Confidence can do crazy things for a basketball player. And if Agbaji approaches his senior season with that Devonte’ Graham type of mentality, he has the talent, ability and opportunity to play at an All-American type level.

Doing that would improve his draft stock and better prepare him to be a pro. And, in hindsight, it also would make his decision to return to school for one more run look like a very smart one.

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