Ochai Agbaji, No. 3 Kansas formidable obstacle for Tarleton

Kansas Jayhawks

The back story of Ochai Agbaji does not reflect the typical recruit that a blueblood program lands.

He concentrated mostly on soccer in high school, did not get ranked high by the recruiting services and got a look from the Kansas staff primarily because of his proximity in nearby Kansas City.Following last season, Agbaji had made enough strides to examine a move to the NBA before returning as a fourth-year starter on a loaded roster.

Based on opening-night returns, the future looks even brighter after Agbaji scored a career-high 29 points against Michigan State as No. 3 Kansas (1-0) follows up on its Champions Classic win by hosting Tarleton (0-1) on Friday at Lawrence, Kan.

As is his nature, Agbaji deflected attention, describing his performance as “a lot of fun, a great way to start off the season, but I can only just thank my teammates. They found me around the court, found me for lobs and stuff, found me out in transition.”

Kansas coach Bill Self expanded on Agbaji’s value.

“He’s had some big games in the past, but I don’t know if he’s had a bigger game on a bigger stage and the bright lights,” Self said of Agbaji’s dominant effort in Madison Square Garden. “He had a lot of individuals labor from a starting standpoint offensively, and he just basically carried us.”

Agbaji did a little bit of everything on Tuesday.

He drew enough fouls to go 8-for-8 from the line while also knocking down three 3-pointers. He swiped two steals to contribute to the 16 turnovers the Jayhawks forced.

Much of the preseason hype centered on the depth Self corralled in the offseason. While Agbaji reminded everyone of the firepower Kansas retained with four returning starters off a 21-9 squad, newcomers managed to make a splash.

It came as no surprise that Remy Martin stood out, overcoming a scoreless first half to contribute 15 points after the three-time All-Pac 12 pick for Arizona State was named preseason player of the year in the Big 12. Reserves Bobby Pettiford, Zach Clemence, Jalen Coleman-Lands and Jalen Coleman-Lands also provided sparks off the bench.

“We don’t know what we’re doing yet and that’s pretty evident,” Self said of playing time he distributes. “We’re hard to scout because nobody knows what we’re doing. We don’t even know. … I was encouraged by our bench, I really was.”

Billy Gillispie is in his second season directing Tarleton’s transition to Division I as a member of the WAC. The Texans enjoyed a halftime lead at Stanford on Tuesday before falling 62-50.

Montre’ Gipson scored 15 points as one of five Texans who logged at least 29 minutes. Tarleton forced 14 turnovers, including six steals, while holding Stanford to 42.6 percent shooting. A year ago, Tarleton nabbed 10.5 steals, forced 18.7 turnovers and allowed 62.3 points on average.

“It’s probably the hardest schedule in the country,” Gillispie said of Tarleton’s challenges, which include six games against teams in last season’s NCAA field, including the likes of Gonzaga, Michigan and Wichita State.

–Field Level Media

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