Dajuan Harris earns trust in first crunch-time appearance with KU basketball
Dajuan Harris left his first meaningful appearance with Kansas basketball with both a bushel of statistics and the kind of must-have plays that don’t show up in a stat sheet.
The redshirt freshman guard’s biggest get, however, came well after the final whistle.
“I think,” said KU head coach Bill Self, “that he gave me a lot of confidence in him.”
And for good reason.
Harris notched 3 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Jayhawks’ 94-72 victory over Saint Joseph’s on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla. Inserted into the contest for the first time with 15:31 left in the second half and KU nursing a one-point lead, the 6-foot-1, 160-pounder out of Columbia, Mo., also drew a pair of key charges that stole extra possessions for his squad.
The Jayhawks (1-1) outscored the Hawks by 21 with Harris on the court.
“I’ll be honest with you: We haven’t seen Dajuan consistently play like he did today (Friday). And he hasn’t really played as much. He’s been kind of nicked up a bit, hasn’t been 100% and has looked slow because of that,” Self said. “But I thought today he was quick, he was into it, he played good position defense and he’s got such good hands ... and he’s a terrific passer.”
Self on Monday went even further in his assessment of what Harris brings to the table.
“He’s not a break-you-down guard off the bounce, but what he is, he can really move the ball fast,” he said. “And then he can play off somebody else’s closeout, somebody else’s penetration. And then when he gets in there he’s such a good passer and has great feel. I was really impressed (with) how he played.
“I thought he played a way that would allow him to play against anybody because it wasn’t like he just went and whipped a guy. What he did was he just gave what the defense gave him, he moved the ball quick and he has great vision.”
With point guard Marcus Garrett fighting through a breathing issue Friday — the senior played only 14 second-half minutes — it was Harris at the wheel for KU’s most productive offensive stretch of the young season.
Shortly after taking his first charge with 13:41 remaining, Harris was smack-dab in the middle of a highlight-worthy sequence that also involved the Jayhawks’ two leading scorers, Christian Braun (30 points) and Ochai Agbaji (18). Agbaji poked the ball away from a Saint Joseph’s player and into the waiting arms of Braun, who kicked it over to Harris. Then, in a two-on-one fastbreak, Harris threw a perfect lob to Braun, whose layup gave KU a 58-53 lead and forced a Hawk timeout.
Braun’s make kick-started a 13-2 run for Self’s squad.
“I 100% expected it from Dajuan. I’ve seen it since seventh grade,” said Braun, a longtime teammate of Harris with AAU program MOKAN Elite. “I was so happy to see him out there doing his thing and doing stuff that like I said I’ve seen for so long. So I’m happy for him. I think that’s a lift that he can always give us, just another shot creator. He was smart with the ball today and definitely gave us a good look.”
Harris’ second charge taken came with 10:38 remaining, and a few plays later, the redshirt freshman’s steal and driving dish under the basket found a wide-open Agbaji, converted with a powerful dunk.
A wide-open 3 on Harris’ lone shot attempt pushed his team’s edge to 83-65 with 3:55 left, and on Saint Joseph’s next trip down the court, Harris stole the ball and kicked it ahead to Agbaji for another flush.
“If you’re going to pick the igniter or the best player as far as (how) our team looked, Dajuan Harris, he sparked us more than anybody,” said Self, speaking in a postgame radio interview. “I mean the other guys were solid and Christian really scored the ball, but Dajuan was the guy out there at the end. ...
“He can get other people shots. He has really good vision. And of course he’s just so light; he’s got to get stronger. But I thought he was good.”
The “biggest difference” in KU’s drastically improved ball movement in the second period, Self said, was Harris’ insertion into the contest.
“The ball never stuck with him,” Self said. “... When he got (the ball) it was in and out of his hands so fast. That makes the defense go from strong to weak faster. We sometimes get guys that are ball-holders and it kind of kills everything. I think that’s one thing we can certainly show our guys, is how much better we were offensively when the ball moved, and of course Dajuan was a big part of that.”
In all fairness, part of Harris’ success Friday likely stemmed from the matchup, with Saint Joseph’s deploying five guards in a small-ball lineup that gave the Jayhawk bigs fits. Whether Harris can retain that level of play now becomes one of the team’s most intriguing storylines moving forward, beginning with No. 7-ranked KU’s high-profile matchup with No. 20 Kentucky (1-1) at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Indianapolis.
At least one Jayhawk isn’t betting against Harris.
"That's who he is. That's what he does,” Braun said. “He took a long time off last year, so he's been itching to get back on the court. I was so proud to see him step up and play well when he got put in (and) take advantage of the opportunity that he got. So I was proud of him and I hope to see more of that in the future."
NO. 20 KENTUCKY VERSUS NO. 7 KANSAS
Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Records: Kentucky 1-1, Kansas 1-1
TV/radio (Topeka): ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Up next for KU: vs. Washburn, 7 p.m. Thursday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence