By Corbin McGuire
DaJuan Gordon did not hesitate to answer the question. And it’s a question most freshmen never get asked
Did he envision becoming a strong leader in K-State’s locker room in his first year?
“Yes,” Gordon said, with a confident and calm aura about him.
His response was so matter of fact that it was almost as if he had been asked if he was from Chicago, Illinois — which he is. Leadership, as much as anything else, is part of the K-State true freshman’s DNA. With each week, it’s starting to show more.
“(I’m) just being myself,” Gordon said. “I’ve always been kind of a leader. I just try to lead, no matter what.”
Gordon answered multiple questions about his leadership abilities on Monday during a press conference to preview K-State’s battle with Texas Tech (10-5, 1-2) on Tuesday at 7 p.m., on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
These questions came at him partly because of what K-State head coach Bruce Weber said of Gordon after Saturday’s loss at Texas. Gordon put up nine points on 4 of 5 from the floor, grabbed five rebounds and two steals against the Longhorns.
“He’s got the heart of a lion,” Weber said afterward. “I think he is slowly but surely going to become our leader.”
Weber knew Gordon’s leadership capabilities from his recruitment. As a senior, Gordon led Curie High School to a 35-2 record that included conference and city championships, as well as a third-place finish at the Class 4A State Tournament.
Ever since Gordon got on campus, Weber has likened Gordon’s obsession to get better — he regularly texts the coaches and asks teammates for tips and personal critiques — to that of Barry Brown, Jr. Weber re-emphasized that comparison on Monday.
“One, he loves to play. I said since the beginning that he’s a lot like Barry. He’s got that determination, that grit, that he competes all the time. He always tells the coaches we need to do more competitive drills,” Weber said. “He just loves it. He loves the game.”
Gordon also hates to lose. As K-State’s struggled to pick up wins in recent weeks, he’s moved forward the only way he knows how: As a leader. He’s spoken up more recently at practice, in the huddle and the locker room. He’s asked more people and more often on ways he can improve, too.
“I’m just tired of losing. I just have to push my guys in a certain kind of way,” Gordon, the Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year in 2019, said. “I’m going to keep trying, keep pushing.”
His teammates have appreciated it. Senior leader Xavier Sneed praised the up-and-comer’s leadership.
“DaJuan does a great job of pushing everybody,” Sneed said. “Even coming in as a freshman, just talking (everyone) up, being as vocal as he is, and he does a great job of just coming out and competing every day.”
Weber said a big reason Gordon’s leadership has been received so well is due simply to his effort. He walks the talk. His numbers show it. Through 15 games, Gordon leads the team in offensive rebounds (24), holds K-State’s second-best field goal percentage (45.9; min. 50 attempts) and sits fourth on the team in scoring average (6.5).
“It’s not always perfect. He makes a lot of mistakes, but he just plays so hard. He gives it his all,” Weber said. “I love that he’s the one that’s not backing down. He’s playing determined.”
Which, sooner than later, may jump Gordon into K-State’s starting lineup. Not that will change a whole lot, as he’s averaged 25.6 minutes in K-State’s last five games. But Weber said it’s something the coaches have talked about.
“The thing is, I don’t think he cares. All guys have a little pride (in that) but he really just wants the team to win and whatever is best for the team,” Weber said. “And he’s got to get better, but he wants to get better. He constantly watches film, texts me, texts the other coaches. It’s very important to him.
“He wants to do well. I like that. He wants to win. He just keeps texting me, ‘We’re going to win, Coach. We’re going to win.’ That’s the difference in guys being just average players or really good players.”
Source: Kansas State Sports