When the time came to announce the boys winner of the award bearing his father’s name, Dr. James DiRenna Jr. motioned Ochai Agbaji over to the microphone.
It’s not an easy name for some to pronounce. But it may not be that way for long.
Agbaji, the 6-foot-5 senior from Oak Park and newly signed Kansas Jayhawk, was selected the 64th winner of the award during the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association’s annual awards show on Thursday night at the Ritz Charles in Overland Park.
Agbaji made it a Northland sweep for the DiRennas. Earlier in the evening, Chandler Prater of North Kansas City received the girls award for top player in the Kansas City area.
Agbaji’s rapid rise to prominence has been well documented by now. Lightly recruited entering his senior season, Agbaji made his name by averaging 27.6 points and six rebounds per game for a 23-3 Oak Park team. That caught KU’s attention and helped him land among the five finalists.
Winning the DiRenna, Agbaji said, had been a dream of his long before he became a big name. He wanted to be like his big sister Orie, a volleyball star at Oak Park who won the Evelyn Gates Award as the city’s top volleyball in 2015.
“She won the Evelyn Gates Award, and my goal was to get the boys one,” Agbaji said. “It’s a lot to me. This surprised me honestly. It’s such an honor.”
Prater, the only junior among the five girls finalists, appeared completely stunned when she heard her name, even after putting up 21.4 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals a game for the 22-5 Hornets last season.
“I was just happy to be up there, actually,” Prater said. “I knew that I had a chance, but when they called my name it’s like I went into dream mode.”
Agbaji and Prater will take part in Friday night's Kansas vs. Missouri High School All-Star Classic presented by the GKCBCA and Nike. The girls game will tip off at 6 p.m. followed by the boys at 7:45 at Avila’s Mabee Fieldhouse.
The DiRenna Award was established in 1954 by Dr. James A. DiRenna to honor the top male basketball player in the greater Kansas City area. In 1997, the award also began recognizing the top female player. After DiRenna’s death in 1996 his son, Dr. James A. DiRenna, Jr., continued the tradition of this award with the assistance of the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association.
Longtime coaches Mark Scanlon and Brett Goodwin were inducted into the GKCBCA Hall of Fame. Scanlon, who just finished his first season at St. Michael the Archangel, coached for 22 years at Raytown, where he coached current Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue. Leann Wilcox Plutnicki, who starred at St. Mary’s in Independence and Kansas State in the 1970s, was inducted in the players category.
St. James Academy athletic director Mark Huppe received the Tom Colwell Lifetime Achievement Award. Huppe spent 30 years coaching at the high school and collegiate levels before taking on his current job.
Hogan Prep boys coach Rob Heitman and St. Thomas Aquinas girls coach Rich Hetzel received the Eddie Ryan Award as the top coaches in the Kansas City area. Heitman led Hogan Prep to the Missouri Class 3 state championship. Hetzel led Aquinas to a third-straight Kansas Class 5A girls title.
John Morris an assistant coach at Rockhurst for 33 years, received the Walt Tylicki Memorial Award.