When the Utah Jazz acquired Ochai Agbaji as a part of the trade that sent Donovan Mitchell to the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was already quite a bit of excitement about the rookie.

Though his first NBA season started with some G League assignments and spotty minutes off the bench, some patience and hard work saw Agbaji slowly work his way into the Jazz’s regular rotation.

By the end of the 2022-23 season, Agbaji was a part of the starting lineup and Jazz fans were absolutely buzzing with excitement about the former Kansas Jayhawk’s potential. While he started out the season deferring to the Jazz’s more veteran players and just trying to play his role within the system, he closed out the season with a new sense of confidence and the skillset to back it up.

In the final stretch of the season, Agbaji was aggressive rather than deferential — creating shots for himself, creating for others, shooting off the dribble, racking up weak-side blocks and proving to be a pest on the defensive end. That late-season success meant he would be coming into his second NBA season with a different mentality.

“Definitely,” he said. “Stepping into the second year role that I’m in, and the confidence that I’m bringing from last year, and those last like 25 games that I played, it’s just kind of like stepping into a new role.”

As soon as last season ended, Agbaji knew that he was going to be playing in Summer League with the Jazz and knew that more was going to be asked of him in the 2023-24 season. So, he took his offseason work very seriously.

After taking a couple of weeks off at the conclusion of the regular season, Agbaji returned to Utah and hasn’t stopped working. One of the things that head coach Will Hardy told Agbaji was that he wanted him to keep his cardio up over the offseason so that Agbaji would be able to play more minutes, longer stretches and be available and fresh at any moment of any game.

“The biggest thing was my conditioning,” Agbaji said. “Just being able to stay out there and be productive late in the game, on back-to-backs and after a long weekend and stuff like that. Just to stay on top of that and just making sure I’m in the best shape possible because he wants me out there as long as possible.”

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It’s not like Agbaji was in bad shape in his rookie season. He was actually in great shape and proved to be incredibly athletic throughout the season. Even so, after just three months Agbaji is in even better shape than he was before — so much so that coaches and players have taken notice of how much work he’s put in over the summer.

“Crazy cardio, crazy. His body is just incredible,” Luka Samanic said of his teammate. “And the game is slowing down for him, for sure. I think he’s just gonna get better and better.”

In the Jazz’s first game of Salt Lake City Summer League, a 95-85 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Agbaji seemed leagues ahead of his teammates. Finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one block in 30 minutes, he looked comfortable, confident, in control and strong.

Jazz assistant coach Evan Bradds, who is Agbaji’s player development coach during the regular season, is the Jazz’s summer league head coach and said he’s been incredibly impressed with the work that Agbaji has put in this offseason.

“Especially for probably not playing a whole lot of five-on-five, to come in and for him to play 30 minutes,” Bradds said. “Incredible shape. Obviously he came into last year in pretty good shape and it just got better. Then for him to be able to come out and get a lot of plays run for him and do a lot of stuff, it’s pretty impressive.”

Though Agbaji has already solidified himself as a part of the Jazz’s future and figures to be a featured part of the Jazz’s rotation in the upcoming season, that doesn’t mean that he’s satisfied.

That’s why he was motivated to change his diet a little, to do more cardio to see if he noticed a difference on the court by shedding a couple of pounds and gaining more definition in his body. And he does all of this, not necessarily because it’s what has been asked of him or because he wants validation from his teammates, coaches or the league. Instead, Agbaji is looking for ways to challenge himself.

“I feel like every single day when I’m going to practice I have something to prove, not so much to everyone else, but to myself,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better and better myself as a player every single day.”