Call him the stabilizer. The nickname fits Kansas’ Dajuan Harris. Losses were at a premium for KU this season, but adversity came to the Jayhawks doorstep more than most would imagine for a 30-win team. And the soothing presence in Lawrence was Harris.
Ochai Agbaji is one of the elite talents in the country. Christian Braun can hit clutch shots almost at will. Yet it’s Harris’ somehow under-the-radar current that kept Kansas’ path to a No. 1 seed alive during the middle of the season. Harris serves as the Jayhawks’ starting point guard, taking over for Remy Martin, who suffered a knee injury in early February, and not letting go of the reins over the following several weeks.
Martin’s healthy now and serves as the best bench player in the NCAA Tournament. Harris’ role isn’t to light up the scoreboard but his effectiveness would be sorely missed and leave Kansas exposed to an upset if he didn’t play for Bill Self. Harris played the sixth-most minutes for the Jayhawks in their 79-72 win over Creighton on Saturday, to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2018.
The guy with the sixth-most minutes might not appear to be a serious contributor, but Harris’ efforts are comparable in a way to a set-up man in baseball, a trusted member of a bullpen responsible for pitching the eighth inning, holding the lead while not usually recording the final three outs. You’d read about it in the paper if the set-up man blows the lead, but he’s rarely mentioned when he does his job effectively. Harris has had a few moments throughout the season where he’s been in prime spotlight, while trailing far behind Braun and Agbaji in statistical exploits.
Harris’ journey to the ignition of Self’s offense has been an interesting one. I’d know, since I first watched him play basketball in 2018. I was the hometown newspaper’s high school sports reporter in Harris’ hometown of Columbia, Missouri. Odd he comes from the home of Mizzou and now is integral for Kansas but I digress. I covered more of his senior season at Columbia’s most populous high school, Rock Bridge, than anyone and it wasn’t particularly close to second place.
As I moved to town, Harris had a sterling reputation as one of the state’s best players. He was an elite distributor, had blazing speed and was a pest defensively, a trait that’s translated to Kansas as the team’s best perimeter defender. Harris was consistently put against any opponent’s best scorer and shut them down on almost every occasion. There wasn’t a better effort from Harris than in the state championship game, drawing the assignment of a player also starting on a Sweet 16-bound team.
Rock Bridge faced St. Louis prep powerhouse Christian Brothers, led by North Carolina guard Caleb Love. Down by eight to begin the fourth quarter, Harris was part of the comeback effort that helped Rock Bridge lift a state title. At the time, Harris was committed to Missouri State with the semifinal and title games taking place on the Bears’ campus in Springfield. A bigger part of Harris’ reputation at the time was his presence on the baddest three-headed monster in the Show-Me State high school circuit, alongside Isiaih Mosley and Ja’Monta Black, who both now also play for Missouri State.
After Harris’ dazzled at the EYBL Peach Jam U17 Championship in July 2019, one of the premier amateur tournaments in the country, Self got in contact and he flipped to the Jayhawks. Now, he’s teammates with Agbaji, who coincidentally played for the son of Harris’ high school coach. They’re four wins from a national title.
I talked with Harris after his commitment. He mentioned 32 months ago how he felt Self was the “best coach in the country” and KU had the best traditions in the country. Most relevant now among other reasons he wanted to be a Jayhawk: “I want to win a national championship.” Kansas’ season was prematurely ended due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the Jayhawks exited the NCAA Tournament in the Round of 32 last season. These are the moments Harris dreamed of and KU wouldn’t be in the upcoming momentous games without him.