Oak Park High senior Ochai Agbaji alternated between his left and right foot as his launching pedestal, an effortless leap into the air that placed him nearly eye level with the rim. He squeezed a leather basketball into his fingertips and dunked it through the cylinder.
During a Monday afternoon practice, the Northmen ran some variation of this drill over and over again — Agbaji pivoting around a screen or two, darting to the basket and finishing with a two-handed alley-oop.
It’s one of several plays that Oak Park coach Brennan Scanlon implemented specifically for Agbaji. The practice was simply a dry run — no defenders — but Scanlon still pointed out a screen that wasn’t set quite correctly.
These are the details on which Scanlon chooses to concentrate. They are the details on which he has to concentrate this season, because finding ways for Ochai Agbaji to score will never be a problem.
Getting him the ball? That’s a challenge that has required some additional boxes on the play sheet.
“If he doesn’t have two guys on him, then he has three guys on him,” Scanlon said. “Every night, he’s double- or triple-teamed. It’s been no secret from the beginning of the year where we want to go with the ball.”
Agbaji’s talent has been well-known among high school coaches in Kansas City for awhile. The statistics make him tough to hide. He is averaging 27.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in his senior season.
But for all of the attention he receives on the court, it took the college ranks a bit to catch up. A week ago, Agbaji, a 6-5 wing, held zero scholarship offers from Power 5 conference schools.
The word is out now. A Texas A&M coach attended one practice last week and saw enough. He offered Agbaji on the spot. The first in a flurry. Over the past six days, Agbaji has picked up additional offers from Wisconsin, Oregon and Nebraska.
“It was tough early in the year because the offers weren’t coming. My parents and I, we kept saying, ‘Where are they at?’” Agbaji said. “I’ve put in all this work and all this time. It was frustrating. But I learned to be patient with it all. So that’s why this has been the really exciting part for me.”
The latest interest has come from Lawrence. Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts was in attendance for an Oak Park game two weeks ago. Agbaji said he expects KU coach Bill Self to watch him in person later this month. The Jayhawks have not yet offered.
“Obviously, KU is KU,” Agbaji said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about it. But we’re going to wait it out as far as we can. That’s what I’m thinking right now.”
For what it’s worth, Agbaji did not grow up as a fan of either KU or Missouri, the latter of which has not yet shown significant interest. His parents both played basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Agbaji was born in Milwaukee and moved to Kansas City in 2005, but he remained a Wisconsin Badgers basketball fan. So the offer from Wisconsin is particularly intriguing.
But Agbaji doesn’t plan to rush his decision. He will wait until his senior season has concluded before announcing his plans. He established that timeline long ago, advice his parents gave him as he watched his AAU teammates sign during the fall.
He wanted to settle his future, too, and he considered picking from the crop of choices he held at that time — not a Power 5 school among them — back when UMKC was among his most attractive options.
“I kind of just wanted to get it over with,” he said. “My dad just kept saying (to) wait it out. Just wait it out.”
So what took so long for the others to jump on board? Agbaji has a theory about that. He spent the summer playing as part of the Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL), which provided him plenty of exposure. But he was on a talent-rich team — which featured current Missouri forward Jontay Porter — that didn’t need Agbaji to carry the load.
At Oak Park, Agbaji is the go-to guy. And he’s proven he can handle the role.
“We use him wherever we need him,” Scanlon said. “If we need to get the ball inside, we throw him inside. If we want to get something going on the perimeter, we’ll put him on the perimeter.”
There’s a diversity to Agbaji’s game that stems from his childhood. On some teams, he was the tallest player, and he spent most of his time in the post. As a freshman, he was 5-11 and playing point guard on the junior-varsity team.
He settled on a combination of those two roles this season. He has a keen ability to drive the ball and draw fouls. But he’s also a capable spot-up shooter.
Six times this season, he has topped 30 points. He has scored at least 20 points in 10 of his 17 games.
“We think he’s the best player in Kansas City. If people ask me, that’s what I tell them,” Scanlon said. “Now whether that comes back to bite us, I don’t know, but I think he’s the best in Kansas City. He can do everything.”