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Dajuan Harris makes a great point

Senior guard assesses potential postseason benefits of Big 12 journey.

by Chris Lazzarino
Dajuan Harris

Two days after the Jayhawks’ 79-75 loss to hot-shooting Iowa State Jan. 27 in Ames, which knocked KU’s conference record to 4-3, senior point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. arrived in the Allen Field House media room in something of a talkative mood, carefully projecting a calm presence while discussing his team’s urgent challenges.

Oklahoma State would be up next, the following night, already concluding KU’s home-and-away matchups with the Cowboys. After that would come fourth-ranked Houston, a Big 12 newcomer arriving on its first trip to Lawrence as one of the country’s hottest teams.

“Last year we lost three straight in conference and we always believed,” Harris said, referencing the 2023 squad that won the Big 12 at 13-5, despite losing January games at Kansas State, home to TCU and at Baylor. “This year we’ve got to continue to believe. Stay together. We’ve been through it all. We’ve seen this stuff before.”

Despite the loss, Harris described his performance at Iowa State—nine points, seven assists and only two turnovers—as one of his best games of the season, an assessment that coach Bill Self later seconded. Leading the Big 12 in assists at 6.9 per game heading into February, good for eighth nationally, Harris was named among 10 finalists for the prestigious Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award.

“The best is still to come,” Harris added. “I still haven’t been playing as the best player I could be.”

With fitter and fiercer coach Bill Self directing the action (top), Allen Field House highlights included Kevin McCullar Jr. defending the rim against UConn, a game that superfan Jason Sudeikis managed to lasso into his busy schedule; a team huddle against Mizzou; and Hunter Dickinson with a block against Oklahoma.

Harris said he would watch that evening’s Houston-Texas game—a 76-72 Cougars victory in Austin: “That’s going to be a bear fight, and we play Houston on Saturday. Our schedule gets tougher every game from now on.

“We’ve got to go into practice every day and try to get better. We’ve got to do a better job today at practice, getting energy up. This is the main focus. We’ve got to be our best this week. If we lose tomorrow or we lose Saturday, that’s going to hurt us. It starts with today’s practice.”

Indeed, KU prevailed in both of those games, including a 78-65 thumping of Houston that Self described afterward as the best home environment to that point of the season. (The eighth-ranked Jayhawks were home underdogs for only the second time in Self’s 21 seasons at KU; the first was in 2021, to eventual national champion Baylor, also a 13-point KU victory.)

When asked by Kansas Alumni whether this season’s rugged, 14-team league schedule can be even more helpful than past years in preparing KU for postseason, Harris said he thought it might do exactly that—but not merely for the competitive challenge of trying to prevail over tough opponents.

“Every team is going to help us out,” he said. “Every team has their different playing styles. There’s a lot of athletic teams, teams that can shoot, teams that can really guard. We’ll see it all, but, to be honest, I think it just comes down to us handling our own business, doing our part.”

Playing with his high-energy style that lights up Allen Field House, powerhouse junior forward KJ Adams Jr. on Jan. 30 scored 16 points with 7-for-7 shooting from the field and a pair of free throws on as many attempts—and added six assists, two steals, two rebounds and a blocked shot—to help muscle KU to an 83-54 victory over Oklahoma State.

Self commented on Harris’ assessment by rattling off an extended series of coaching and playing styles encountered in the Big 12—assorted ball-screen philosophies, baseline and zone defenses, switching in and out of defensive sets within a possession—and happily concluded that the senior he relies on to direct on-court action was onto something.

“I think Juan’s point is pretty spot on,” Self said, “although we haven’t talked like that. That’s just him, on his own, realizing that.”

After Harris scored 12 against OSU, Self shared his pregame advice: “I told Juan he needs to quit listening to me and he needs to quit listening to everybody else, what they think he should be doing to play well. It’s ridiculous, including me.

“I tell him, ‘Just play and trust your instincts. Quit trying to do what other people say you need to do.’ He needs to make sure his team wins, and that’s what he does.”

Chris Lazzarino, j’86, is associate editor of Kansas Alumni magazine.

Photos by Steve Puppe

Issue 1, 2024


Men's basketball, sports
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