Knicks can find RJ Barrett complement in Ochai Agbaji

A 22-year-old, four-year-old college player, Ochai Agbaji is a breakaway in next week’s NBA draft.

You won’t hear overused draft terms like upside and potential from him nearly as often as you will from some of the other top young prospects in the draft. Unlike many others who are fulfilling a lifelong dream at the Barclays Center next Thursday, he is legal to drink.

With that age comes experience, which can also be beneficial.

“Being in college for four years … the maturity and all the experience and the ups and downs that I’ve been through is similar to being in the league,” the former Kansas star said Thursday after attending a group practice session with the Knicks had attended. “The level I’ve competed at over the last four years and the level I’ve competed against helps me and prepares me for the league better than others.”

Agbaji is a study in endurance. The 6-foot-5 security guard only received a high-major scholarship offer in his senior year of high school. It wasn’t until his senior year in Kansas — after flirting with the idea of ​​turning pro — that he broke out as a national star. He worked tirelessly to get to that point, and now he’s close to turning pro after a season in which he led the Jayhawks to the national championship and averaged 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.

Ochai Agbaji is older than most players in the draft.
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Ochai Agbaji celebrates after leading Kansas to the national championship.
Ochai Agbaji celebrates after leading Kansas to the national championship.
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While the Knicks clearly need a playful lead guard, they want to surround the franchise’s lynchpin RJ Barrett with as much talent as possible, and adding a dead-eye shooter like Agbaji would be one way to improve on Barrett’s supporting cast . He shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range on 6 1/2 attempts per game and was great on college basketball’s biggest stage, scoring 7 of 11 en route to the Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors hit from a distance.

“You can both play on the wings together and you would be athletically dynamic. They’re sort of opposites,” ESPN college basketball and NBA draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said in a phone interview. “RJ can bring anyone to the basket. He’s a bull in a china shop who’s still improving his outdoor shooting, and Ochai is the opposite. He’s an athletic winger who’s a great shooter who has yet to learn how to make the basket and score in traffic. They would complement each other well.”

Agbaji appears to be there when the Knicks pick at No. 11. He has coached for the Wizards, Thunder, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Bulls, among others, mostly teams in the back end of the lottery. A year ago Agbaji could only have dreamed of being in this place.

“He’s improved as much as any player in college basketball [over the past year]’ Fraschilla said of the Kansas City, Missouri native. “He’s gone from being a good Big 12 player who didn’t have any real draft buzz after his junior year, to a top 10 pick based solely on how much he improves from the end of his junior year to the end of his junior year has senior year.

Ochai Agbaji participates in drills at the NBA Combine.
Ochai Agbaji participates in drills at the NBA Combine.
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“He’s arguably as good a shot as in this draft, and it’s effortless. He’s done it in high-pressure clutch situations so many times this year. I think he hangs up his hat. He is an excellent marksman who is not afraid of the moment.”

Agbaji showed himself from the start of the season, starting with the opener against Michigan State when he amassed 29 points and had three 3-pointers in a stunning win at the Garden. It set the tone for a memorable year — and it may have happened in his future home.

“That would be great,” Agbaji said. “To be in town, to be in Madison Square [Garden]plays under coach [Tom] Thibodeau, it would be a dream come true.”

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