By Corbin McGuire
DaJuan Gordon has long played with a hunger to prove people wrong. In this sense, his appetite only grew after he was cut at the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team training camp in mid-June.
“My expectation was to make the team,” Gordon, an incoming freshman for K-State men’s basketball, said. “It puts a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t make it. It just makes me want to play harder, work more, and show that I should have made the team.”
As Team USA, led by K-State head coach Bruce Weber, wrapped up a perfect record en route to a gold medal at FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece on Sunday, Gordon looked back at his experience as a positive for a few reasons.
First, he got to play with some of the top talent in the country.
One of 34 players invited to try out, the 6-foot-4 guard displayed his diverse skillset, including a highlight tip dunk, at the training camp in Colorado Springs. There, the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Committee, comprised of Chair Matt Painter of Purdue, former NBA player Shane Battier, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Providence’s Ed Cooley and Arizona’s Sean Miller, selected a 12-man roster that Gordon was left off of.
Still, he left encouraged.
“I feel like I gained confidence because now I know that I’m good enough to play against them,” Gordon said. “I heard from Coach Weber that I was close to making it. I was right there. But, it’s just a good learning experience to play against all of them and get to learn more from Coach Weber, learn more about what he wants.”
Of his initial takeaways from his first few practices led by Weber — albeit wearing red, white and blue instead of purple, white and black — Gordon said he learned his new coach “likes to play fast” and “get the ball out” in transition.
Gordon said he also experienced Weber’s intense focus on defense, a big part of what sold the Chicago, Illinois native on K-State early.
“Every time we talked about anything,” Gordon said, “it was mainly about defense.”
Gordon connected with these defensive-focused conversations immediately.
“I didn’t play my freshman year (of high school) because I didn’t play defense. Ever since that, that’s all I think about,” Gordon said. “I like to score, but I think a lot about defense, too, because you have to play defense to play.”
Even more, Gordon leaned on some of the past Chicago-area standouts he has a relationship with, such as Dee Brown, who played for Weber at Illinois and became a second round NBA Draft pick.
“I talked to other people about it, like Dee Brown,” Gordon said, “and they all played defense, and they played and they’re big-time people now.”
Brown also gave Gordon insight on Weber, helping build toward his decision to come to K-State.
“Before I even committed, he talked to me and told me he’s a great coach, he’s going to be on you and wants you to get better,” Gordon said. “That’s what I was looking for, someone that could make me better and build a relationship with.”
Gordon started his K-State career in a bit of a blur.
He first arrived on campus on June 8 to start summer classes and workouts, before flying back to Chicago on June 11 for his high school graduation. Two days later, he was back in Manhattan to resume his K-State responsibilities. On June 15, he flew out to Colorado for the Team USA training camp. He returned, after a long delay in Dallas, on June 18.
“It’s kind of hard because it’s faster than my past life in high school. I just have to keep up with it,” Gordon said of adjusting after his hectic start at K-State. “It’s helping me take responsibility for my actions and (learning to) just keep moving and being a better person.”
Obviously, Gordon said he’s focused on becoming a better player as well.
In the last year, his game took a huge jump. So, too, did his recruiting ranking. The four-star talent finished as the No. 71 recruit, according to Rivals, in the 2019 Class, which capped a 73-spot jump from when he broke into the website’s Top 150.
After averaging 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists, shooting 54.4 percent from the field, and leading Currie Metropolitan High School to its first city league title, Gordon was named the City Player of the Year by the Chicago-Sun Times. In doing so, he joined the likes of Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett and Derrick Rose to earn the honor.
Already, however, Gordon knows he has his work cut out for him to contribute at a high level for K-State.
“I have to focus more,” he said. “Instead of playing around, goofing off, I have to really pay attention and watch so I can come in and play.”
At his peak, Gordon said his game brings a little of everything to the table. This summer, on top of gaining strength, he said his focuses are to improve his ball handling and become more comfortable running the point guard spot.
“Being able to control the team, if they need me to, and just being able to show that I can play a role, if I need to,” he said. “I came too far already to just come chill, so I just need to keep working.”
Source: Kansas State Sports