Kansas point guard Dajuan Harris has been looking forward to the Jayhawks’ upcoming Border War battle against Missouri for a long time.
“It’s because we’re going back to my hometown. I get to play in front of all my family and friends,” Harris, a 6-foot-1 junior from Columbia, Missouri, said of Saturday’s nonconference clash against the Tigers.
Tipoff is 4:15 p.m. at Mizzou Arena with a live broadcast on ESPN.
He’ll have a cheering section on hand — so far his official ticket request list is at 13 and counting — one that will consist of fans of both schools.
“Ones that like Missouri? I’ve got a couple,” Harris said. “They’re going to cheer for me. They’ll have all the Kansas stuff on.”
Harris — he averages 8.0 points a game with 56 assists against 17 turnovers for the No. 6-ranked Jayhawks — is quite familiar with Missouri’s 15,061- seat arena.
“Starting around high school, it’s when I’d play pickup games there,” said Harris, a graduate of Rock Bridge High School. “This past summer we would be hoopin’ there. Some gym we used to hoop in got closed down so we’d play there.”
Harris said some MU players joined in the pickup game action, including one Tiger that Harris considers his “best friend.”
Isiaih Mosley, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior from Rock Bridge High is a Tiger transfer from Missouri State. He averages 9.0 points a game for the 9-0 Tigers.
“My best friend Isiaih plays with them, so I’ll be looking forward to that matchup,” Harris said. “We are real close. During middle school I was playing with him every day. We did a lot of things together. ... He probably won’t guard me. I’ll guard him. If he gets to doing what he does, I’ll guard him.”
Continued Harris: “I don’t ask him about his team. We’ve been talking stuff to each other about who will win. But I don’t ask about the team, just how he is doing.”
Mosley played just six minutes in the Tigers’ most recent game, a 96-89 win over Southeast Missouri State on Sunday in Columbia. He did not play in the game before that, an 88-84 overtime win over Wichita State on Dec. 4 in Wichita.
“He’s got some stuff going on. I don’t know what’s going on. Hopefully we get to play against each other. We’d cherish that moment,” Harris said.
Harris, who turns 22 on Sunday, was not recruited heavily by Missouri coming out of high school.
“They heard some stuff that KU was talking to me (and contacted Harris in summer of 2019 prior to his committing to KU),” Harris said. “They didn’t have the stuff I needed that was required to go to school. My main focus was KU. They were the only people who tried to help me (get in a major college academically).
“Growing up in Missouri I heard we don’t like Kansas. That’s always been the way it was. I got older and realized the best position was me coming here. Coming here was the best position I could be in.”
KU coach Bill Self explained: “Juan’s recruitment was not really a recruiting story for us. He signed with Missouri State and didn’t qualify so we became interested in him after (that took place). He was either going to go to junior college or we’d have to figure a way if he wanted to come here how to make it where he would be a partial qualifier. When he was no longer going to be eligible at Missouri State we got involved. Missouri was never a factor in recruiting against us. They may have been a factor out of high school. We got Juan theoretically not out of high school but after he signed with another school.”
Despite the circumstances in his recruitment, Harris expects he may hear a few boos from MU fans Saturday — ones that wish the hometown player was suiting up for the Tigers.
“They are probably going to say some words to me, but I’ve got to play my game, not worry about that, try to get the win for my team,” Harris said.
Self said he hopes Harris is motivated but not too fired up on game day at MU.
“My question for Juan is not if he’ll be revved up. My question: Is he too revved up? That’s the last thing you want,” Self said.
“You want guys to be able to compete at the highest level and competing at the highest level doesn’t necessarily mean trying harder. It means focus and balance and being at that magic level where your energy, focus, concentration are kind of at that peak where it allows you to perform the best. Sometimes emotionally if we get too charged up it leads to not performing as well. I just want him to be him rather than him worrying about him trying to play well because he’s from Columbia.”
Harris did play well in the game between the two sides last year — a 102-65 KU win in Lawrence — which was the first of a six-year, six-game Border War renewal. Harris, who scored 13 points in that game, said: “We had some great players on last year’s team. I fed off them. Really I think going into this year’s game we’ve got to be ready to be coachable because it’s our first true road game.”
“We had a lot of players leave after last year,” Harris continued. “Really just me, J-Will (Jalen Wilson) and Kevin (McCullar) have played in big games like this. I feel we’ve got to lead our team.
“We had a meeting after practice. Coach (Self) told us he might have some old players come in and talk to us how much this means to KU. We’ve got to come out and play hard for the fans. Nobody likes Missouri here We want to come out and play for you all (fans).”
Self added on Thursday, “I don’t know (if) we’ll do anything special, but we will certainly let it be known this is an important game to their fan base and our fan base. It’s the same thing we did last year. And it is. It is a big game for both fan bases. It’ll go a long ways with both programs determining on how good a nonconference season we have.”