Former KU Jayhawks standouts Agbaji, Azubuike set career highs in points on same night
Two first-round NBA Draft picks who each earned Big 12 player of the year honors during their college days at Kansas, erupted for career highs in points for the Utah Jazz in a huge win over the Sacramento Kings on Monday night.
Jazz rookie Ochai Agbaji, taken No. 14 in last June’s NBA Draft (by Cleveland, traded to Utah following a national title season at KU), hit six three-pointers and scored an NBA career-best 27 points in Utah’s 128-120 victory in Salt Lake City.
Third-year pro Azubuike, the 27th overall pick of the Jazz in the 2020 Draft, cashed an NBA career-high 13 points and grabbed a season-best eight rebounds in 18 minutes.
Agbaji, 6 feet, 5 inches, 215 pounds out of Oak Park High School in Kansas City, hit 8 of 14 shots. He was 6 of 10 from three and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. He had five rebounds, three assists and a block while starting and playing 33 minutes.
Azubuike, 7-foot, 270 out of Lagos, Nigeria, came off the bench and hit all six of his shots from the field. He was 1 of 2 from the free-throw line. He also had a block and a steal, scoring seven points in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz improved to 35-36 overall, 22-13 at home. The Kings dropped to 43-28.
For the year, Agbaji has averaged 6.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game while logging 18.3 minutes per outing in 48 games. He started the season playing for Utah’s G-League team, averaging 13.2 points across nine games for the Salt Lake City Stars.
“I kind of saw that as my own race, starting there (G-League),” Agbaji told The Associated Press after Monday’s victory. “My expectations were a little bit different coming in, but starting there I had to be fine with it, had to go with it, had to give it my all and have a positive attitude while I was doing it.”
Jazz coach Will Hardy spoke to USA Today about the 22-year-old Agbaji.
“We’re continuing to see his game start to expand a little bit,” Hardy said. “The shots he is looking for, the shots he is taking. Obviously, it feels better when they go in, but I will continue to say that I would feel the same way about Ochai if he had missed a lot of those shots because he is finding and seeing different shots that he wasn’t a month ago.”
Azubuike, 23, has averaged 2.3 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while playing an average of 6.3 minutes in 27 games this season. He’s played in three of the Jazz’s last 10 games.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can play,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said after Monday’s huge victory for a team still in the playoff hunt despite rebuilding in 2022-23.. “It’s fun to see, it’s fun to watch — I mean, ‘Dok’ (Azubuike) came off the bench tonight — hadn’t played in 70 games this year or whatever it is, I don’t know — and was huge. He made great plays, was active on both ends of the floor, gave us a huge lift,” Olynyk added.
Azubuike told the Salt Lake Tribune: “Everybody over here, they have that next-man-up mentality. We don’t depend on one person. We do it as a team. We knew that we didn’t have Lauri (Markkanan, injured) today, so we knew that we had to play together, to compete, to bring forth a little bit more energy. Everybody stepped their game up,” Azubuike added.
Utah’s next game is Wednesday vs. Portland in Salt Lake City.