On the biggest stage, Ochai Agbaji did it better than anybody in his draft class.
And in about one week, he’ll find out how much stock NBA teams place on the NCAA Tournament.
“I think it adds a lot of value. People don’t notice how hard it is to get to that spot in general,” said Agbaji, who won the national title with Kansas and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “To win that make that many games. And to also play those games with the utmost pressure. Just being on the stage of the Final Four is the most pressure in basketball itself. But being in front of those people and in that atmosphere is unlike any other. But I think it’s harder than people see.”
Agbaji finished his predraft workouts with a stop Thursday at the Knicks training facility, where he was the top prospect in a group of six. He’s projected as a pick in the 10-to-20 range, a status reinforced by the teams he visited before New York — Washington (10th pick), Chicago (18th), OKC (12th) and Cleveland (14th).
The Knicks own the 11th pick and, if they don’t trade up, will miss top target Jaden Ivey of Purdue, who is destined for the top-5.
Agbaji is a skinny wing shooter who, at 22 and a senior last season with the Jayhawks, is among the older prospects. That’s typically a detriment to a players’ perceived ceiling, but Agbaji said he feels more NBA ready.
“The level I’ve been competing at and the level I’ve been going against the last four years helps prepare me for the league better than others,” he said.
Agbaji “was on the fence” about declaring for the NBA draft last year when he was a second rounder. But he returned to Kansas and the gamble to return paid off.
Agbaji improved in all categories as a senior, most impressively with a 3-point shot that he nailed at a 41% clip last season. It remains his development focus his.
“I do believe that I’m one of the better shooters,” he said. “But obviously feel like I can’t shoot the ball well enough. So just transitioning to the next level as far getting my shot off, getting my shot off quicker and still being consistent in that is something I’ve been working on.”
Interestingly, the Knicks had five of the previous 18 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players on their roster (Carmelo Anthony, Joakim Noah, Wayne Ellington, Kemba Walker and Ryan Arciadiacono). Agbaji has already played twice at MSG, including a spectacular 29-point performance in a victory over Michigan State.
He’s hoping to make such MSG highlights a commonplace.
“That would be amazing (to be drafted by the Knicks),” said Agbaji, who dined with the team’s front office on Wednesday night. “Being in the city, being in Madison Square, playing under Coach Thibodeau, it would be a dream come true.”
Jabari Smith is probably the No. 1 pick and he’s definitely not slipping past No. 2.
The Auburn stretch power forward said he only worked out for the teams choosing first and second – Orlando and Oklahoma City, respectively – and plans to keep it that way until draft night.
Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero are also projected as top-3 picks, but Smith has crowned himself the jewel.
“I think I’m perfect because of my ability to affect both sides of the ball and my ability to knock down shots and affect winning at such an early age,” Smith said. “I feel like that’s why I’m the No. 1 pick.”
Smith, who averaged 17.1 points as a freshman last season, was impressed by OKC executive Sam Presti during his visit.
“Just his vision to getting back to where he was with that (Kevin Durant) and (Russell Westbrook) team,” Smith said. “He sees it going in the right direction and that was real promising for me.”