Former University of Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji was selected in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The 22-year-old Agbaji, a first-team All-American, Big 12 player of the year and Final Four Most Outstanding Player, who played at KU the past four seasons, went No. 14 overall in the two-round, 58-player draft (Milwaukee and Miami lost their second-round picks this season for violating the NBA’s tampering rules during free agency).
The top 14 picks in the draft constitute the lottery, which began in 1985. Agbaji is KU’s 18th lottery pick and 12th in Self’s tenure with the Jayhawks, which is entering a 20th season.
“First off, I just want to thank the organization and Cleveland for drafting me, believing in me. I’m going to give you 110% every single day and a positive attitude. That’s really all. I’m just going to be a hard worker, come in, be humble and represent my city well,” Agbaji said in the media room after his selection.
Agbaji averaged 18.8 points (on 47.5% shooting; 40.7% from three) and 5.1 rebounds a game this past season for national champion KU.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Agbaji had individual workouts with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Several mock drafts indeed had Agbaji going to Cleveland.
“The shooting piece was important,” Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman told Cleveland.com. “The fact he can play wing, the fact he can guard wing is great. I don’t know if that went into it so much as the need for shooting. I don’t want to put him on a pedestal and say, ‘This is the next great wing that we draft.’ But maybe it is. I do know that he fits a need right away and he’s going to compete and he has that winning pedigree that we really like.”
Altman added: “He’s a player who can come in and help us. He’s more of a finished product than some (players drafted) in the past...We need a shooting piece.”
It is hoped Agbaji is a rotation player, maybe a starter, right away in Cleveland.
“We were one game away from the playoffs,” Altman said as quoted by the Akron Beacon Journal. “And I do think that there’s a need for that shooting piece. And not just standstill shooting... We got a little bogged down last year, a little stagnant at times. And so maybe he can sort of turn it up and make it make us harder to guard right away.
“He can really shoot. He’s got a really quick trigger. You can run him off screens. You talk about a national champion and he brings a skill set that we don’t necessarily have to the table. That skillset is going to be utilized, we hope right away,” Altman added.
Agbaji, a graduate of both KU and Oak Park High School, became KU’s first first-round pick since Udoka Azubuike, the 27th overall pick in the 2020 draft by Utah. KU has had two first rounders since 2017. Josh Jackson went No. 4 overall that year to Phoenix.
Teammate Christian Braun joined Agbaji as a first round pick when Denver selected Braun 21st overall.
They are KU’s 25th and 26th first-round picks and 39th and 40th draft picks overall since the NBA adopted a two-round draft in 1989. They are the the 15th and 16th players from a Kansas City area high school to become a first-round NBA Draft pick and Agbaji was the highest pick from a KC area school since Grandview’s Alec Burks went 12th in 2011.
Agbaji tested the NBA Draft waters after his junior season but elected to return to KU, where he led the Jayhawks to the NCAA title this spring.
He recently measured 6-5 3/4 with shoes, 6-4 1/2 barefoot at the NBA Combine. He weighed in at 216.8 pounds with a 6-10 1/4 wingspan and 8-8 standing reach. He had with 5.4% body fat. His standing vertical leap was 32.0 inches with a maximum vertical leap of 39.
He recently compared himself to Memphis Grizzlies second-year guard Desmond Bane.
“We are athletic, bigger type wings that can defend and knock down shots,” Agbaji said noting his contributions as a pro will include “shooting the ball, making athletic plays, plus my defense, my competitiveness overall and my winning spirit.”
He said he’s most comfortable “being a utility guy 1 through 4, switching, guarding 1 through 4 on the defensive end, being a guy that moves well off the ball and complements other guys.”
Cleveland’s Altman told the Beacon Journal that Agbaji is also “an incredible human being. He’s always been sort of a late bloomer wherever he’s been, he’s had to work his way, sort of self-made. He just fit the character and the attitude and the work ethic that we’ve been looking for. This is the first time we’ve drafted a national champion right out of the gate and so brings a lot of accolades, but I think he brings a humbleness that we appreciate.”