Oh my, Ochai: KU freshman Agbaji delivers dazzling debut to help No. 7 Kansas top No. 25 TCU

Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji (30) helps up Kansas forward Dedric Lawson (1) after Lawson hit a three from the corner during the second half, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

He waited 14 games and 9 weeks to finally play, and then had to wait 4 minutes and 9 seconds longer to actually get into a game.

From there, it took Kansas freshman Ochai Agbaji just 10 more seconds to make an impact that was felt throughout Allen Fieldhouse long into the night during the Jayhawks’ 77-68 victory over No. 25 TCU on Wednesday.

On his very first official play as a Kansas Jayhawk, Agbaji cut hard near the top of the key and curled around the left side of the lane with nothing but open air in front of him. As he soared toward the rim, freshman point guard Devon Dotson floated a soft pass toward him and Agbaji did the rest, catching and dunking in one fluid motion for his first points of the season.

“That was exciting,” Agbaji’s mother, Erica Agbaji, told the Journal-World after the game, while still sitting in her seat with a smile plastered on her face. “That brought back memories of what we saw in high school. I was very nervous at the start, but once he got out there and I saw him playing his game, he looked great.”

The KU freshman’s father was in his native Nigeria on Wednesday, celebrating his own father’s 80th birthday. After his debut, Agbaji said he was hopeful his pops was watching on TV and added that he was looking forward to talking to him about the big night.

Kansas coach Bill Self, however, did enough to fill the role of proud poppa after Agbaji’s impressive debut.

“I thought he was great,” Self said. “Other than Dedric (Lawson), he was probably the second best player we had in the game. He’s never been in a big game — ever — and to come out and perform like that was pretty special.”

Although Agbaji had never run that specific lob play that helped him crack the scorebook, he had guarded it enough times in practice to know what to do. He even had an inkling that it might be coming when he checked into the game.

“I had a thought that maybe it’d be a lob,” he said with a grin. “But it definitely got us going after that. It got me going, too.”

While her son said after the victory that he still needed time for the whole experience to sink in, mom left Allen Fieldhouse with two main takeaways. The first was how much more Agbaji communicated while on the floor.

“He never used to do that,” Erica said.

The second?

“Wow,” she said. “He’s improved a lot.”

By night’s end, the athletic freshman from Oak Park High in Kansas City, Mo., had dotted the stat sheet with all kinds of contributions: 7 points, four rebounds, two steals, one block. And while each was big in its own right and at a particular time, the collective nature of all of it together was something that sure looked like it could play a huge role in the way the rest of this Kansas basketball season plays out.

“He played great,” said Lawson after dropping 31 points and 14 rebounds to help lead Kansas (13-2 overall, 2-1 Big 12) to victory.

Asked what aspect of Agbaji’s game impressed him the most, Lawson, who also said the freshman sparked the energy of the entire team, pointed to his poise.

“The way he looked so comfortable out there,” Lawson said.

Related document

Box score: Kansas 77, TCU 68 ( .PDF )

Agbaji’s first action came at the 15:51 mark of the first half when he checked in for Marcus Garrett (8 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists in 35 minutes and a starting role) during the game’s first media timeout. Any notion that Agbaji’s first game in a Kansas uniform would be short-lived, designed only to give him a taste of what’s to come, was quickly put to bed during that first stint on the court.

In a little more than seven minutes of game time, Agbaji had scored 4 points on a pair of lobs, grabbed a couple of tough rebounds, encouraged quick and precise ball movement on every possession, and even picked up a steal at the top of a new-look, full-court press.

The freshman was not without his tough moments on Wednesday. But, at least on this night, even his missed shots, tough fouls and moments of confusion were heavily outweighed by his positive contributions and much-needed willingness to flat-out compete.

After scratching and clawing for everything they got during the first 17 minutes — a 2-point lead seemed large in Wednesday’s first half — the Jayhawks closed the half on a 14-5 run and played some of their best basketball in the process.

Lawson scored 7 points during the stretch — 5 from the free-throw line — and Lagerald Vick added 5, including a 3-pointer that also included a little Agbaji flare.

With the Jayhawks leading 29-28 with just over three minutes to play in the half, Vick surveyed the defense at the top of the key and elected to pull up for a 3. A split-second before he did, Agbaji made a hard back cut to the basket on the left wing and pointed up to the rim as he slipped by the flat-footed defender. Vick went up to shoot before he saw him and the shot went in anyway. But it was yet another example of the effect Agbaji can have on this Kansas offense.

While a lot of the night was about Agbaji and the newfound energy and electricity this KU team played with, there were a few reminders of old reliable.

And most of them came from Lawson. Much like his spurt late in the first half that gave the Jayhawks separation at the break, Lawson flashed a similar solo run midway through the second half that turned a 53-50 nail-biter into a double-digit lead for the home team.

Lawson scored 10 of his game-high point total during that stretch, including a 3-pointer in front of the KU bench that came after he turned down a forced jumper at the elbow and a spinning scoop shot along the left side that, yet again, showcased his body control and soft touch.

Lawson also flashed a little of his rugged side when the Jayhawks needed it most, scoring a tough bucket in the post to put Kansas ahead of TCU (12-2, 1-1), 70-65, around the 3-minute mark and grabbing a tough rebound on the ensuing possession.

“The 20 turnovers stand out,” said TCU coach Jamie Dixon of his team’s propensity to give the ball away on Wednesday. “And they were more physical than we were. That’s probably where they got it. Give them credit for just wearing us down and going inside and just being the more physical team completely.”

Comments

Steve Zimmerman

Dunk you, Ochai! Your energy, your play, attitude, are just what this team needed. They're contagious. I knew all along he will greatly contribute to the team and he just proved it. Damn! I'm excited again to watch KU play! Rock Chalk!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Creg Bohrer

This young man is going to be a star. The thing I was most impressed with is the fact he's a freshman and under the turnover column is a big fat 0. Vick a senior 6. Looks like to me Vick needs to ride the pine until he can figure out how to hang on to the ball.

1 week, 2 days ago

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['']

THIS!!!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

And this guy was redshirted?

1 week, 2 days ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Self said he improved MUCH faster than anyone on the staff anticipated.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Yes, you'e right. I remember that.

1 week ago

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Mike Bennett

Vick is not playing well. The last three games he's had 6 (TCU), 7 (ISU) and 4 (OU) turnovers. He can't continue to turn the ball over at this rate. He's got to start playing better for this team to win.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Joe Joseph

Unfortunately, Vick is just who Vick is. He's not going to be a consistent player. Dedric is that guy. We just have to hope Vick is on when we need him most.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Jay Scott

I wonder what courses Vick has taken.

When I see him on the floor or in front of a microphone It's hard to imagine that he's much of a scholar.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I'm not sure if I heard this from the broadcast or some other source but it basically stated that Self had redshirted Ochaii so that Vick and KJ would get more minutes.

It doesn't sound like something Self would do, especially as Ochaii looked to be the real deal in his only public performance and could be exactly what this team needs.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Mallory Briggans

Well Coach Self kept his word , He got OKC in when it mattered and not mop up time,OKC looked very composed on the court . I know he will make mistakes but he looked pretty confident on the floor last night. If Self doesn't trust you he wont play you .IF...….IF...….IF we can get anything out of McCormack ....Doks injury may addition by subtraction …Great start OKC . The fact that Coach Self gave him 25 minutes speaks volumes .OKC just made a big deposit in Bill Selfs " BANK OF TRUST"

1 week, 2 days ago

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['']

Are you trying to give Ochai the nickname OKC? It ain't working.....

1 week, 2 days ago

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Steve Zimmerman

What does OKC stand for? I also didn't get it..

1 week, 2 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I see 'OKC' catching on everywhere. I know Bill Walton will be sent on a flashback and forever put it into the ESPN lexicon.

Players on the other team might be confused why we're cheering for OKC in the middle of a Kansas game until it catches on.

Just kidding Mallory but it isn't happening.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Bryce Landon

All things considered, I'd say Ochai Agbaji had himself a pretty good showing his first night in a Kansas uniform. Those seven points played a big role in helping Kansas win.

Dedric Lawson was the man tonight with 31 points. Whenever we needed a basket, he delivered.

Marcus Garrett came up big when it mattered with his play, but none more so than when he rebounded a LaGerald miss and put it in the basket.

LaGerald Vick didn't have a great game, or even a good game, but he had a moment toward the end that I thought was awesome. When Devon Dotson came up with that big block on Alex Robinson, during the stoppage in play, LaGerald Vick chest-bumped Devon and displayed a great deal of excitement for Devon's critical play. That says to me that LaGerald is coming in with a team-first attitude instead of with a me-first attitude that he used to have.

A good win, and sorely needed after Saturday's thumping at ISU.

P.S. How about West Virginia blowing a 21-point lead at K-State? Everyone is getting in on the act of coming back on WVU!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Dale Rogers

Very astute observation about the Vick-Dotson interaction. I missed that. Good comments overall, too. Thanks. WV is now 0-3 in conference play.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Robert Brock

Vick cues the Benny Hill music. Gotta love Yakety Sax. Get used to it.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Tony Bandle

Kansas going 9 - 0 at home and maybe 5 - 4 on the road may be good enough to at least tie for the conference title. [Wins at KSU, WV, BU, OSU and UT may be enough. On the road OU, TT, TCU coupled with the loss at ISU are probably the least losses that can happen with more a possibility. With the parity in the league, heck, 12 - 6 may be a possible three or four team tie!!!

1 week, 2 days ago

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Michael Leiker

Has there been any statements regarding the thought process of red-shirting this guy initially?

1 week, 2 days ago

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Glen Miller

Yes, Bill Self stated that it was never about if the kid could play or not..... it was just about the depth of the roster and that he wasn't going to get the minutes he probably would deserve. They thought red shirting him now and having him possibly for 5 years would provide him and the team with the best of both worlds. It was a development strategy as well as keeping a talented kid at KU for as long as they could.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Dale Rogers

Right on. And when the situation changed, hats off to Agbaji for putting the team first by pulling the redshirt despite not playing the first 14 games

1 week, 2 days ago

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Shannon Gustafson

Self also said he improved much faster than anyone anticipated. Apparently he's a real sponge.

1 week, 1 day ago

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['']

If he keeps improving at this pace he won't be around for his senior yr anyway. Frascilla said he was NBA material

1 week, 1 day ago

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James Donnell

Yeah, watching his first game makes it unbelievable that Ochai was red-shirted. Hard to overstate what a good debut he had. He absolutely looked like he belonged on the floor--more so than several of the guys who have played 13 more games. I know he was being a little tentative to not make any mistakes (and other than taking a fake and being scored on in the lane, did he make any?). One missed 3 pt shot, and it even looked good. I say “wow.”

1 week, 2 days ago

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Barry Weiss

great game. if Vick could just stop all the turnovers that would be a big help.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Jay Scott

It was confusing when the ESPN reporterette called him "O'Shea".
(Where did they find her? She's awful.)

A certain Irish redhead had a new favorite Jayhawk for a second....
Chances are she might still feel that way anyhow.....

1 week, 2 days ago

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Barry Weiss

agree, I always like Holly Row.

1 week, 2 days ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Agree and agree. How do we rid ourselves of Fran?

1 week, 2 days ago

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['']

Fran is light years better than Dick Vitale or Bill Walton. LIGHT YEARS!

1 week, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

NO argument here though Bill can be hilarious at times.

1 week ago

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Dane Pratt

What's wrong with Fran? I like him.

1 week ago

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Mallory Briggans

Just to set the record straight …..OKC is my personal reference to Ochai ….For those who want to know why I call him that ,,,,,its simple his first name starts with an O and he is from Kansas City ….Its easier than butchering his name … For those who think I'm trying to give him a nickname ….Nah that's my personal nickname when I reference him....So Steve and Marius you can call him what you want ………….Regardless you knew who I was talking about and as long as he is a Jayhawk you might as well get used to me calling Ochai OKC

1 week, 1 day ago

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Steve Zimmerman

I'm not complaining about anything here. But thanks for the detail. It's all good here.. :)

1 week, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Sorry, didn't mean anything Mallory. I nickname a lot ot things too.

1 week ago

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Peter Miles

Well, I actually am complaining.

Mallory, just to set the record straight from my perspective- for the game in which Ochai Agbaji has an auspicious debut, I think that you should have at least shown enough respect and support for Ochai to use his actual name, or at least a nickname that his teammates use for him, not to make up something of your own.

His first name is only 5 characters long and his last name is 6 characters long - you don't have to pronounce it, just spell it!

I don't think that we should have to get used to you referring to him as you did.

1 week, 1 day ago

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Mallory Briggans

Well Mr Miles I was not aware you were dubbed the nickname czar, I didn't know I was being
disrespectful . So Jojo …..T- Rob …..B-Mac …..D-Mac …...oh did I include Dok and Svi just to name a few Jayhawks . Sports nicknames have always been around ...Do me a favor if you can find out what Coach Self or the players call him and If it makes you I will call him that...And if you would please tutor me on how to spell Svi's name ….names with more than 5 letters gives me problems

1 week ago

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Mallory Briggans

Hey Steve and Marius my apologies for being defensive . I enjoy this forum to discuss KU basketball and I m not here to troll or make enemies so its all good guys

ROCK CHALK

1 week ago

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