It got bloody at times in those early Gunn one-on-one battles out on the playground.
Young C.J. tried his best, but with a two-year edge, his older sister Lauren had the early advantage.
Both trained by their father Chris to be competitive first and foremost, neither wanted to give an inch on the asphalt courts in Fishers, Ind.
And so things got a bit interesting at times.
“Where me and my sister grew up, we used to bike down to this elementary playground, and our dad used to take us out there,” C.J. said. “And me and my sister used to go one-on-one, probably for about two, three hours out there.
“We used to scratch each other, make each other bleed, cry, fuss, stuff like that.”
C.J. wasn’t just dealing with any sibling. Lauren is Division One basketball player at Cincinnati as it turned out. Perhaps it was always just a matter of time, but if he was going to claim household bragging rights, she was going to make him earn it.
He lost the early battles, but eventually C.J. found an extra gear.
“My sister was older than me. She was bigger than me when we were little, but it got to a certain age probably around like 12 where it didn’t happen anymore,” C.J. said.
Fast forward six years, and in some respects C.J. is back in the same boat.
Up against older, experienced competition as a true freshman at IU, no one is going to hand him anything.
C.J. may not be scratching anyone in Bloomington, not on purpose anyway, but the source of that childhood mentality lives in.
“It really came from my pops,” he said. “My pops, he’s a really aggressive guy. So when it comes to sports, he taught me and my sister growing up to always be competitive. And I feel like that competitive drive, even going against my sister when I was little, that competitive drive that I always had growing up that he’s implemented in me has definitely stayed with me to this day.”
Adding to his inner drive, Gunn arrived last month in Bloomington as the member of his recruiting class ranked the lowest, the player outsiders were doubting.
“It definitely adds fuel to the fire knowing that people are still counting me out and doubting me, but I know at the end of the day what I can do and what I can bring to the table, so I just kind of have that ‘they’re going to see’ kind of mindset,” C.J. told The Daily Hoosier last month before he got to IU.
One reason he was doubted, at least as it related to making an early impact was his wiry frame. Gunn measured in at 6-foot-6 and 186 pounds a few weeks ago, hardly the prototypical dimensions for success in the Big Ten.
But already he says he’s added 13 pounds, just one pound away from his summer goal of 200.
On the court, his teammates see his reputation from high school carrying over against college athletes.
“He’s a good player,” fellow freshman Kaleb Banks said. “He’s like a really good shooter. So, I know I can count on him to knock a shot down.”
Defense on the wings and perimeter shooting were the first two areas of needed improvement head coach Mike Woodson pointed to following the 2021-22 season.
And those are usually the first two areas that come to mind when those who have watched Gunn develop discuss how they believe he can impact the college game.
As they adjust to the speed of the game, it isn’t easy or typical for a true freshman to make an impact as either a defender or a high-level shooter.
So no one is proclaiming Gunn will set the world on fire from day one. But also, no one is doubting that Gunn will compete. That part comes natural at this point
“I grew up always having that dog in me on both ends of the floor, and I feel like it’s really important to me to be a two-way player and not only be the best player on the offensive end but to also guard the best player on the other team,” C.J. said.
And although he’s away from home now, C.J. has found a new authority figure in his life to carry his father’s torch.
Chris can sleep well. C.J. isn’t going to lose his competitive edge in Bloomington.
“He (Woodson) gets on me — I’m a hard-nose,” C.J. said. “I learn through hard nose, like my dad is really aggressive. Coach Woodson, he just knows how to make me focus and dial in more.”
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