KJ Adams, young KU big men and more eager to help Dajuan Harris Jr. fill leadership needs of 2023-24 Kansas basketball team

Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (3) and Kansas forward KJ Adams (24) run out of the tunnel for warmups prior to tipoff against Iowa State on Friday, March 10, 2023 at T Mobile Center in Kansas City. Photo by Nick Krug

Some pretty good leaders have come through the Kansas men’s basketball program during the past few seasons.

And even though Ernest Udeh Jr. and Zuby Ejiofor didn’t play with all of them, the two young big men are hoping to add their names to that list in the near future.

“One hundred percent,” Udeh said after the Jayhawks’ season ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “When you’re “that guy” on the team, a lot is expected of you and you can’t help but fall into a leadership role.”

That’s just one piece of the leadership puzzle that the Jayhawks will have to put together this offseason. KU coach Bill Self still will have point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. in place to run the show. And in every way imaginable, the 2023-24 Jayhawks will be Harris’ team. But he’ll need help, like he had this year from Jalen Wilson and Kevin McCullar Jr. last season. And those two young big men along with junior-to-be KJ Adams appear to be more than ready to fill the roles that need to be filled when it comes to teaching and preaching the Kansas basketball culture to what could be as many as seven or eight new faces.

Whether those belong to KU’s four incoming freshmen or a handful of older players from the transfer portal, they’ll all be new to Kansas basketball.

Ejiofor and Udeh are not new any longer, and they’re hoping that the lessons they gobbled up during their freshman season will serve them and the team well as sophomores.

“This year was all about experience and learning and getting better for next year,” said Ejiofor, who averaged 5.1 minutes per game in the 25 games he played.

Udeh, who averaged 8.3 minutes per outing in the 30 games he appeared in, said the young big men have talked about taking another big step heading into next season. That, of course, starts with their work in the offseason, both as basketball players and experienced returnees.

“We listened to those guys,” he said of Wilson and McCullar. “And, moving forward, I just need to not specifically be the leader but be a voice in the locker room and help all five guys on the court and the entire team click together and know what we’re supposed to do at all times.”

Kansas guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., left, Kansas forward KJ Adams, Kansas center Ernest Udeh Jr. and Kansas forward Zuby Ejiofor (35) laugh together as they get suited up for practice on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Nick Krug

Harris will be entering his fourth year with the program this offseason, and Adams will be starting his third. Both veterans played with guys like Wilson, McCullar, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun and Marcus Garrett.

So, too, did veteran walk-on Michael Jankovich, who also said he was eager to expand his game and responsibilities to become more of a quiet, behind-the-scenes leader next season the way former KU walk-ons Tyler Self and Chris Teahan did as they got older.

“I’m just trying to keep that mentality,” Jankovich said. “It’s an opportunity for me to step up and try to take more of a role in that area because we may not have many veterans next year. So I just want to step into that role and kind of help out new guys and even some of the younger guys as we kind of go along.”

After watching and learning for two years, Adams knows a good chunk of the heaviest leadership burden will fall on him next season. And he’s eager to put into practice, with his own words and in his own way, what he saw from those past KU veterans.

“They’ve shown us the ropes, they’ve shown us all we can do,” he said. “Now, it’s just pass it on and try to do what they did and, for future kids, just lead how they led us this year.”

Asked to specificially identify what traits stood out to him about those recent KU leaders, Adams said it was their overall presence.

“When J-Wil and Kev and people like Ochai, CB and Dave walk through the court, you notice them and you notice that they’re leaders and they carry themselves like that,” Adams said. “(I just want to be) vocal all the time like they have been.”


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.