Men's Basketball Sports

How DeJon Jarreau became the ‘poster child for senior leadership’ at UH

DeJon Jarreau (3) of the Houston Cougars looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers in the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. | Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

DeJon Jarreau (3) of the Houston Cougars looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers in the Elite Eight round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 29, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. | Photo by Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS − As the 14th minute approached during Houston’s second-round matchup against Rutgers, senior guard DeJon Jarreau chased Scarlet Knights’ senior guard Geo Baker off an inbounds play and ran into a hard screen set by junior center Myles Johnson.

Jarreau, less than 48 hours removed from suffering a hip pointer in the Cougars’ first-round game against Cleveland State, felt the jolt of pain buzz out of that area. To make matters worse, Baker, open off the screen, buried the 3-pointer to put UH down eight.

The New Orleans native stayed down on the court for a while as the game paused for a timeout. He stayed on the UH bench when the game resumed and watched as Rutgers continued to ride the momentum it had built.

Unable to remain helpless, Jarreau checked back in and prepared to leave it all on the floor of the unity court at Lucas Oil Stadium. He made various plays that helped turn the tide in UH’s favor, from diving for a loose ball to hitting a big 3-pointer, which ultimately secured the Cougars’ win.

For a national audience, it was the first look at what Jarreau’s tenacity is all about. For UH, however, it was just Jarreau displaying the leadership he had shown the entire season.

“That guy is a poster child for senior leadership and for guys that have overcome obstacles,” UH assistant coach Alvin Brooks said about Jarreau recently. “He didn’t have a great year last year. The year before that, he was the sixth man of the year. It was difficult for him to navigate getting back to the level he is at now.”

Growing pains

Just a year ago, Jarreau’s path with the Cougars was at a much different place. The 6-foot-5-inch guard was debating and ultimately decided to declare for the NBA Draft in April 2020.

His announcement, came off a rough junior season, which was perfectly summed up by a hand injury he suffered a month prior to the start of the 2019-20 season.

The injury, along with various other factors, contributed to a dreadful shooting season, which included shooting 17.5 percent on 3-point shots, far below his average a season ago during the Cougars’ Sweet Sixteen run.

Ultimately, Jarreau decided to rejoin UH for his senior season. A choice he said he always felt he was going to make despite declaring for the draft.

UH head coach Kelvin Sampson, however, did not sugar coat anything for the guard. Jarreau’s performance his junior year was not at a level the program felt it needed to be, and Sampson wasn’t shy of making it known. 

“DeJon didn’t have a good year. He’s got to play better,” Sampson told reporters during the summer. “When he got his feedback (from NBA draft scouts) he showed it to me. It wasn’t real pretty, but it was about what I thought. 

“Humility is the most important thing,” Sampson continued. “Sometimes you need to be put in your spot.” 

With a chip on his shoulder and an enormous bag of criticism on his back, Jarreau returned to the UH program a different player.

The one most evident was the embracement of the leadership role for the team, which had a void in that spot after guard Nate Hinton left for the NBA last summer as well.

Jarreau and Sampson met together early in the year, long before the first game of the season against Lamar, and from that point on, Jarreau appeared to be ready to carry that role and the responsibility that came with it, junior guard Quentin Grimes told reporters recently.

‘Poster child’

Once the season began, it became clear to those watching that Jarreau was the engine that made the entire Cougars’ machine run.

“He’s bringing our team together,” UH sophomore guard Marcus Sasser said about Jarreau during the season. “He’s just been a great leader. In practice, everybody goes off him. If he is having a good day at practice, we’re all having a good day. If he is having a bad day, we try to pick him up. He’s getting everyone involved. He’s just matured. He’s been a great leader for this team.”

Along with the change in attitude, there was a clear improvement on the court as well. Jarreau had raised his averages back up, some to career-highs, and the coaching staff continued to tout about the guard.

Not everything was smooth sailing, and there were still kinks that needed to be smoothed out, but as the year progressed, Jarreau only continued to get better.

Once UH reached the end of the regular season and entered the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Jarreau’s numbers began to look like a crunch wrap supreme. 

There was a little bit of everything on each part of the box score, and it culminated with a triple-double during the first round of the AAC Tournament against Tulane.

“We’ve had to adapt to him,” Sampson said. 

True leadership

One of the first things that former UH guard Galen Robinson Jr. noticed about Jarreau when he first saw him was his confidence. Jarreau believed in himself, which is what Robinson liked about him, but was also something that could work against Jarreau at times.

For the longest, the UH coaches tried to get Jarreau to settle down and not force things when they weren’t there.

Throughout his senior season, he began to do just that.

“That’s what he has learned to do. Keeping things simple,” Sampson said earlier in the season. “Sometimes he tries to be Patrick Mahomes, and we want him to be Tom Brady.”

Now nearing the end of the line with the program, Robinson has seen that buy-in as well.

“Seeing him kind of submit to the process, kind of take on the role and being the guy,” Robinson said. “It is something I always knew he could do. It is something coach Sampson always knew he could do. He probably didn’t think he could do it, but he is. That is the type of guy he is. He is willing to do whatever it takes. Seeing him evolve to be that leader, it is definitely a sight to see.”

Jarreau’s fingerprints on the UH program extend far beyond just the court.

One of the players that has been impacted the most has been freshman guard Tramon Mark, who was Jarreau’s roommate for much of the season during the team’s road games.

“I’ve learned a lot from DeJon,” Mark said. “Just countless things … He is a real point guard, and he has helped me open my brain up even more when I am out there on the floor. He’s a big reason why I’ve made some of the plays I’ve been able to make.”

Through his journey UH, the one thing that Jarreau has taken away has been learning to keep things simple. 

While it isn’t shocking, considering it was something the UH coaches drilled into him during his time here, it has extended beyond the court and into Jarreau’s life as well.

“(I’m) just being myself,” Jarreau said. “Just taking what my family has taught me and just plugging it into my daily life. Just my time here, maturing and the coaching staff helping me grow up into the player I am today. The senior leadership just kind of came within. It’s something I’ve been having, and I just be myself every day.”

For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.

[email protected]

Leave a Comment