LAWRENCE — Ochai Agbaji has been to Hawaii before. Several times, in fact. The Kansas basketball sophomore guard even has experience in the Maui Invitational.
Well, he's done all of those things with a controller, at least.
“I actually have played it too, (in) 'NCAA Basketball 2010,' ” said Agbaji, referring to the final edition of the now-defunct EA Sports video game franchise. “I always used to play the Maui tournament, like, specifically, and I would play through that tournament just because I thought it was cool. ...
“I choose a lot of teams, but I’d usually have a player on the team and go crazy with them. But just playing that tournament even on there was fun.”
One of several members of the No. 4-ranked Jayhawks (3-1) with no actual experience in The Aloha State, Agbaji is on the cusp of living out the real thing.
KU opens play in the three-game tournament at 8 p.m. Monday against Chaminade (2-0), a Division II-level program based out of Honolulu. A victory in that contest would move KU into a Tuesday semifinal against either BYU or UCLA, with the winner of that game advancing to a Wednesday championship final against No. 3 Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Georgia or Dayton.
All 12 games across the three-day event will be played inside the intimate 2,400-seat Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Agbaji likened the expected atmosphere to that of an AAU event.
“They said sort of like a high school feel, so it should be compact, small, but still loud,” Agbaji said. “That’s what they said. So I’m excited.”
The Jayhawks are aiming to get more out of this trip than three victories.
“I really think when you get away — and we’ll have a few family members going, but not a lot — (when) you get away and it’s just us, I think that’s a great opportunity to move forward to becoming a team,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Because we’re not a team yet, and nobody in America’s a team yet. But there’s going to be some things that happen throughout a season where you actually kind of come together and become a team.”
Most of that growing, Self continued, is typically done on the road, where there’s little to do beyond focusing on the task at hand.
Believe it or not, that description may even apply to an exotic location like Hawaii.
“You may think, ‘Well, Maui, there will be a lot going on.’ There won’t be a lot going on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and really Sunday,” Self said. “All that’s going to be going on is preparing to play, so I don’t think the distraction bit will be near as great as what some people think.”
This will be Self’s fifth Maui Invitational and fourth with KU, with the Jayhawks winning it all in their last appearance in the 2015-16 season. That year, KU went through Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt in that order, with Wayne Selden erupting for 25 points in the Jayhawks' 70-63 victory over the Commodores in the title tilt.
Self indicated any benefit from his experience in the environment will be negligible.
“We’ve kind of been around and kind of got a feel for what works from that standpoint, but that doesn’t have anything to do still with what works during the game,” Self said. “I mean, we had the same routine when we finished seventh (in 2005-06) as we had when we won it. So I don’t know if it helps a lot, but it certainly won’t hurt.”
Self also has experience with several other coaches set to bring teams to this year’s Maui Invitational, even if at first he didn’t recall his lone matchup with Tom Crean — now at Georgia, the then-Indiana coach took a season-opening victory in 2015-16 with a 103-99 overtime decision over the Jayhawks.
That contest's backdrop? Honolulu.
“Oh, that’s when they beat us. See, I don’t remember our losses,” Self said. “That’s the sign of a good shooter — he doesn’t remember his misses. You’re right, I have (faced Crean), because we owe him one.”
Self ‘happy’ for Wiseman
Memphis freshman James Wiseman, a former five-star prospect once heavily recruited by the Jayhawks, received an update Tuesday regarding his ongoing eligibility issues — the 7-foot-1 center must sit through 12 total games, or until Jan. 12, and pay $11,500 to a charity of his choice, all stemming from impermissible benefits his family allegedly received during the recruiting process.
Self weighed in on Wiseman’s issues Wednesday, saying he is “happy” the former KU target got a quick decision from the NCAA and wishing him the best in his appeal of the 12-game ban.
Another KU figure appeared to offer his own take on the Wiseman situation, going to social media shortly after the NCAA's release on its punishment of the potential No. 1 pick in next year's NBA Draft.
"That's Stupid," tweeted Silvio De Sousa, who added emojis that expressed crying with laughter and facepalming.
De Sousa, who missed his entire sophomore season after first being withheld voluntarily then later ruled ineligible by the NCAA, successfully won an appeal in the offseason that reduced his two-year ban from play — the junior forward’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, is alleged to have accepted impermissible benefits from an Adidas consultant during De Sousa’s recruitment.
That revelation on Falmagne, presented in evidence and testimony last October at the trials of three individuals implicated in the federal government’s probe into corruption in college basketball, was used as evidence in the NCAA’s notice of allegations delivered to KU in late September. That document charged KU with five Level I violations relating to supposed infractions by its men’s basketball program.
Wiseman's banishment is not only far shorter than what De Sousa had to endure, but it was decided in a timeline that moved much faster than what the Jayhawk forward experienced — Wiseman was ruled ineligible on Nov. 8, meaning it took the NCAA just 12 days to review the superstar's situation and issue the revised ban.
Self said he saw De Sousa’s tweet.
“You know, I think that from (De Sousa’s) standpoint — and it may be close but maybe not totally apples-to-apples, but maybe not far off — but in a kid’s mind that has no knowledge and everything else, you’re saying, ‘(I got) two years, and now this?’ ” Self said. “I can sense some frustration probably on his behalf and certainly understand that totally, but I don’t know enough about that situation if we’re totally comparing apples-to-apples.”
KU on Wednesday amended its public statement on the notice of allegations, revealing that it has received a deadline extension to Feb. 19, 2020, to submit its response to the NCAA’s claims.