The Knicks may find a replacement for R.J. Barrett in Ochai Agbaji

Ochai Agbaji, 22, a four-year college player, is an exception in next week’s NBA draft.

You won’t hear overused drafting terms like potential and potential being used almost as often with him as with some other young draft prospects. Unlike many others who will fulfill a lifelong dream next Thursday at the Barclays Center, he can drink legally.

With this age comes experience, which can also be useful.

“Four years of college … maturity and all the experience, the ups and downs that I’ve been through, it’s like a league,” the former Kansas star said Thursday after participating in a group workout with the Knicks. “The level I’ve been at for the past four years and the level I’ve been up against is helping me and preparing me for the league better than anyone else.”

Agbaji teaches perseverance. The 6-foot-5 security guard was not offered a college scholarship until his senior year of high school. It wasn’t until his final year in Kansas – after flirting with the idea of ​​turning pro – that he became a national star. He’s worked tirelessly to get there, and now he’s set to turn pro after a season in which he led the Jayhawks to a national championship and averaged 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Ochai Agbaji
Ochai Agbaji is older than most of the players in the draft.
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Ochai Agbaji celebrates Kansas' victory in the national championship.
Ochai Agbaji celebrates Kansas’ victory in the national championship.
Getty Images

While the Knicks are clearly in need of a top point guard, they want to surround franchise linchpin R.J. Barrett with as much talent as possible, and adding a dead-eye shooter like Agbaji would be one way to improve Barrett’s supporting lineup. . He shot 40.9 percent from three-point range on 6¹/₂ attempts per game and was amazing on the biggest college basketball scene, hitting 7-of-11 from range en route to the Final Four honors.

“You can play both of them together on the wings and you will be dynamic in terms of sport. They’re like opposites,” ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst Fran Frashilla said in a phone interview. “RJ can hit the basket on anyone. He’s an elephant in a china shop who’s still perfecting his street shooting, while Ojai is the exact opposite. He is a sports forward, an excellent shooter who has yet to learn how to get to the basket and score in traffic. They would complement each other well.”

Agbaji believes he will be there when the Knicks are drafted No. 11. He has worked with the Wizards, Thunder, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Bulls, among others, mostly with teams at the end of the lottery. . A year ago, Agbaji could only dream of being in this place.

“He improved just like any player in college basketball. [over the past year]Frashilla said of the Kansas City, Missouri native. “He went from being a good Big 12 player who had no real hype after being drafted after his junior year to putting himself in the top 10 strictly based on how much he improved since the end of his junior year. to the end of it. senior year.

Ochai Agbaji participates in an NBA Combine exercise.
Ochai Agbaji participates in an NBA Combine exercise.
NBAE via Getty Images

“Maybe he shoots as well as he does in this draft and it doesn’t take effort. This year he has done it so many times in clutch, in high pressure situations. That’s where I think he hangs his hat. He is a great shooter who is not afraid of the moment.”

Agbaji showed himself from the start of the season, starting in the opener against Michigan State when he scored 29 points and hit three 3-pointers in the Garden win. It set the tone for a memorable year – and perhaps it happened in his future home.

“That would be amazing,” Agbaji said. “Be in the city, be in Madison Square [Garden]playing under a coach [Tom] Thibodeau, that would be a dream.”

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