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2019 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year: Curie’s DaJuan Gordon

Curie's DaJuan Gordon (3) goes up for a dunk in the second half,Tuesday 01-08-19. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

There’s a perception that elite high school basketball players are just more talented than their peers, that they somehow arrive fully formed and are gifted.

Natural athleticism is just one small factor in excellence. Curie’s DaJuan Gordon, the 2019 Sun-Times Player of the Year, always had the raw abilities.

But during his freshman year those abilities weren’t even enough to be a regular starter on the sophomore team. Gordon was benched late in the season.

“[Gordon] wasn’t good defensively,” Curie sophomore coach Jerel Oliver said. “He just wouldn’t buy in all the way on defense. He’s always been a good scorer.”

Gordon called Oliver after one game and said he didn’t think he could take sitting on the bench anymore, that he needed a day or two to think things out.

“DaJuan came back and said he wanted to do whatever it took to be on the court,” Oliver said. “I told him if he played defense he would be unstoppable.”

Gordon says that stint on the bench changed everything.

“I just started working more,” Gordon said. “I was in the gym whenever I could be.”

It is unusual for a Player of the Year talent to spend two years at the sophomore level. Delanious Rowan, Gordon’s uncle, says that was key to Gordon’s development.

“It taught him how to lead and helped him develop his confidence,” Rowan said.

Rowan is a strong force in Gordon’s life. When he was young Rowan would take him to watch Derrick Rose play for Simeon.

“I think he mostly came to go to McDonald’s after the game,” Rowan said. “His dad wasn’t around so I made sure I was around. I started keeping him with me all the time.”

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Gordon grew up in Bronzeville, he had a basket in his backyard. That’s where he says he played the most as a kid, along with serious time at the South Side YMCA.

“He’s always been a peacemaker,” Tamara Gordon, DaJuan’s mom said. “He learned that from his uncle. He wants everyone to get along, he’s been like that since he was a little kid.”

Gordon has led Curie to remarkable success this season. The Condors, not even a top five team in the preseason, won the Red-South/Central, the Pontiac Holiday Tournament and the city title. Curie is 32-1 and hasn’t lost to an in-state team.

The Condors aren’t an ultra-talented team. The group is somehow more than the sum of its parts and that is likely because Gordon, the star, has set the tone as an unselfish, hardworking, peacemaker.

“At the end of his junior year I knew he could be special,” Curie coach Mike Oliver said. “But two years ago I never would have thought Player of the Year was possible. He made an incredible leap and his personality helped make the team great.”

Gordon is averaging 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Some of his competition for Player of the Year boasts bigger numbers. But Gordon has done the most important thing, he’s won.

“If we allowed him to shoot 20 times a game he would put up huge numbers,” Mike Oliver said. “Our style doesn’t have one guy dominating the ball and shooting all the time. That puts a dent in things like awards sometimes. But in the big games that we’ve played against the other top players he has outplayed them all head to head.”

Gordon has signed with Kansas State. He says Bruce Weber won him over by being chill.

“[Weber] wasn’t trying to persuade me the whole time,” said Gordon. “That stood out, I think he’s genuine.”

Gordon is quiet with the media and most outsiders. His mom says he’s much different with his family and friends but he isn’t ready to share that with everyone just yet. He’s only become well-known locally over the past year.

“I still don’t think he quite recognizes how big of a deal he is,” Rowan said. “He still doesn’t understand that people know him, especially at basketball things. It’s kind of funny.”

At the Pontiac tournament a player on an opposing team said that Gordon was “his favorite high school basketball player.”

That’s an odd thing for a peer to say, but also understandable. Gordon provides the highlight reel moments, wins the big games and does it with a humble playing style that is unfashionable these days.

Curie has been the area’s top-ranked team for almost the entire season. The Condors face Young, the preseason No. 1, in the Proviso West Sectional final on Friday. Curie is four wins from a state title and an undefeated in-state season.

“[Curie teammate] Justin Harmon and I watched them win it when we were freshmen,” Gordon said. “I’ve thought about it constantly since then.”

Whatever the rest of March holds, Gordon’s spectacular season has made him the most unlikely Player of the Year award winner since Homewood-Flossmoor’s Kevin Dillard in 2008.

“I made history,” Gordon said. “Not just for me, but for Curie and my family.”

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

2019—DaJuan Gordon, Curie

2018—Talen Horton-Tucker, Simeon

2017—Alonzo Verge, Thornton

2016—Charlie Moore, Morgan Park

2015—Jalen Brunson, Stevenson

2014—Cliff Alexander, Curie

2013—Jahlil Okafor, Young

2012—Jabari Parker, Simeon

2011—Wayne Blackshear, Morgan Park

2010—Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2009—Jereme Richmond, Waukegan

2008—Kevin Dillard, Homewood-Flossmoor

2007—Derrick Rose, Simeon

2006—Jon Scheyer, Glenbrook North

2005—DeAndre Thomas, Westinghouse

2004–Calvin Brock, Simeon

2003—Shannon Brown, Proviso East

2002—Sean Dockery, Julian

2001—Eddy Curry, Thornwood

2000—Cedrick Banks, Westinghouse

1999—Leon Smith, King

1998—Quentin Richardson, Young

1997—Melvin Ely, Thornton

1996—Ronnie Fields, Farragut

1995—Kevin Garnett, Farragut

1994—Jerry Gee, St. Martin de Porres

1993—Rashard Griffith, King

1992—Chris Collins, Glenbrook North

1991—Sherell Ford, Proviso East

1990—Jamie Brandon, King

1989—Deon Thomas, Simeon

1988—Eric Anderson, de Sales

1987—Marcus Liberty, King

1986—Nick Anderson, Simeon

1985—Michael Ingram, Proviso West

1984—Hersey Hawkins, Westinghouse

1983—Len Bertolini, St. Patrick

1982—Bernard Jackson, Phillips

1981—Walter Downing, Providence

1980—Glenn Rivers, Proviso East

1979—Isiah Thomas, St. Joseph

1978—Mark Aguirre, Westinghouse

1977—Eddie Johnson, Westinghouse

1976—Glen Grunwald, East Leyden

1975—Pete Boesen, Maine South

1974—Audie Matthews, Bloom

1973—Mark Vitali, St. Charles

1972—Quinn Buckner, Thornridge

1971—Quinn Buckner, Thornridge

1970—Lloyd Batts, Thornton

1969—Jim Brewer, Proviso East

1968—Jeff Hickman, Lockport

1967—Rick Howat, Downers Grove

1966—Rich Bradshaw, Marshall

1965—Terry Hurley, Steinmetz

1964—Eugene Ford, Crane

1963—Joe Allen, Carver

1962—Cazzie Russell, Carver

1961—Bob Caress, Thornton

1960—George Wilson, Marshall