It’s been a long time coming!
Kansas senior Ochai Agbaji was visibly emotional after his recent title win, here’s why.
According to The Kansas City Star, in order to understand Agbaji’s story, you have to go back to his second semester as a high school senior at Oak Park. A dominant player nearing the end of his high school career, Agbaji was still without a scholarship offer from a Power 5 school, many noting that it was a classic example of Kansas City basketball being overlooked.
Just when he contemplated taking a lower-level officer, Agbaji got a call from The University of Kansas (KU), offering him a scholarship during February of his senior year, Agbaji ranked as the 334th best player in his senior class. That’s when his mother Erica decided she should talk to her son about alternative options.
“I don’t need to think about it. Bill Self just called me. I’m going to Kansas,” Agbaji recalled telling his mother.
Only he and his family knew what he was truly capable of and the rest of the world would just have to find out the hard way. Agbaji red-shirted himself freshman year, Self only deciding to put him in the game after KU center Udoka Azubuike suffered a hand injury that ended his season. Year by year, Agbaji just got better and better. During the offseason, he was in the gym, spending last summer working out with NBA point guard Damian Lillard. While he contemplated entering the draft, he decided to just wait one more year.
During this year’s NCAA championship game, Kansas defeated North Carolina 72-69, and as Agbaji relished in his victory, everything he had gone through all started to make sense.
“Everything he went through, everything he sacrificed…This is why he came back. He came back to do this,” Agbaji’s father, Olufu, said.
“You’re a champion! You’re a champion!,” his father cheered him on as Agbaji collapsed into his arms, visibly emotional as confetti poured out around them. As his mother made her way to him, Agbaji had already erupted into full blown tears. His sister would join the family’s embrace soon after.
“They’re the ones who know everything I’ve gone through. They know the path it's taken for me to get to this point. Just to share that moment with them,man, that was special,” Agbaji told reporters.
The formerly 334th ranked player was now a NCAA champion and was selected as the Big 12 tournament’s most outstanding player and the conference’s regular season most outstanding player. Former KU players Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers would also join in congratulating Agbaji.
“That guy might go down as having the best KU career in history… In the next five years, his name is definitely going up there in the rafters,” said Rush.
Coach Self agreed, calling Agbaji the program’s most accomplished player since Danny Manning, nearly twenty years ago. Former KU point guard Devon Dotson also echoed those sentiments.
“Just seeing his growth, his development, is amazing to me. I didn’t see this happening, honestly. I mean, you knew, from seeing him in practice freshman year, the potential. But no, I didn’t know he’d reach this level,” said Dotson.
Agbaji knew though. He knew one day he’d make it. And that unwavering faith led him here. Congratulations Ochai!
Photo Courtesy of The Kansas City Star