‘On a mission’: KU’s Dajuan Harris, once a partial academic qualifier, graduates Sunday

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Dajuan Harris adjusted his graduation cap and tassel as he positioned himself in front of the Strong Hall Jayhawk with Kansas basketball teammates Michael Jankovich, Kevin McCullar, Jalen Wilson and Joseph Yesufu at 10 a.m. Sunday.

They were posing for a plethora of pictures on Jayhawk Boulevard, the heart of KU’s campus, before heading over to Campanile Hill for the walk into Memorial Stadium for 2023 KU graduation ceremonies.

“I’m proud of him, happy for him, really excited for Juan,” KU coach Bill Self said Sunday of Harris, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Columbia, Missouri, who happens to be one of KU basketball’s all-time success stories in the classroom.

He arrived at KU in August of 2019 as a partial academic qualifier, meaning he could attend classes but have nothing to do with team activities until second semester — if he showed satisfactory progress in the classroom.

Harris did join the team midway through the 2019-20 campaign and by ’21-22 was starting point guard on KU’s national title team. He started again for KU’s Big 12 title team in 2022-23 and was named to the Big 12’s first-team all-academic squad for the second time.

“When Juan first got here he was allowed to go to school but not practice. He proved (to) everybody he could do the work,” Self said. “Behind Jankovich (who, like Harris, will return for the 2023-24 season) I think Juan has the highest GPA on our team.”

He continued.

“Think about it … Juan still has two years left of school. He can get a second or third degree or get his master’s. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. He deserves the best life has to offer right now,” Self added of Harris, a player the 20th-year KU coach has called, “kind of my favorite.”

Harris has overcome tragedy in life. His dad, Dajuan Sr., who spent some time incarcerated, died in October of 2017 at the age of 34. Dajuan’s brother, Dajion, died in October of 2019.

Dajuan was raised in Columbia with his four siblings by both his mom and grandmother and also spent a lot of time with the Braun family in the KC area. Former KU guard Christian Braun and Harris have known each other since grade school, playing youth basketball together with Harris spending summers in the Braun household.

“We’re all so proud of him. It’s unbelievable from where he’s come from,” KU assistant coach Jeremy Case said Sunday.

“He got here, worked hard, put his head down, was a kid on a mission and knocked it out,” Case added of attaining better than a 3.2 GPA in earning a Liberal Arts and Sciences diploma Sunday.

“We’re very happy for Dajuan,” assistant Kurtis Townsend said Sunday. “Our academic support system did a great job working with him. He’s been really focused in the classroom to earn his degree.”

Harris says his four years at KU have been the best of his life.

“Coach (Self) told me when I came here I had to have summer classes and classes first semester to meet the criteria,” Harris said of qualifying for a college scholarship. “He told me if I came here it’d change my life forever. He’s right. I’ve met great teammates, great people in the community, a great fan base. I’ve been blessed.”

As far as his future, he’d like to play basketball professionally.

“That’s the goal,” Harris said. “I’ve still got two more years left. We’ll see what happens.”

And when his playing days are over?

“I’d probably say coach,” Harris added. “I want to be a coach, run my team like coach Self, give back to the community, do something to help kids. Just give back. I really love it here and want to give back.”

Several KU basketball players graduated Sunday. In attendance for ceremonies at Memorial Stadium were Wilson, Jankovich, Harris, Yesufu and McCullar. Also KU officials indicated Cam Martin and Remy Martin finished their master’s degrees but were unable to attend.

Also … “Shady graduated today,” Self told The Star. He was referring to Darrell Arthur, who played at KU in 2006-07 and ‘07-08, then in the NBA until 2018. “Shady left (for the NBA) after his sophomore year, came back and got his degree. That’s so cool.”

Continued Self: “There’s not anybody that has exhausted their eligibility, scholarship or walk-on, who does not have their degree (since 2003-04 when Self arrived as coach). It’s pretty cool.”