Daniels, Out for NBA Dream, Puts Away the Passport
By Kevin Scheitrum, NBADLeague.com
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Even before he had to deal with seven feet and 260 pounds of sweaty ambition leaning on him for close to 30 minutes on Thursday night, Milwaukee Bucks rookie John Henson knew what he was getting into.
In the two months before he clashed with Chris Daniels at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion at NBA Summer League on Thursday, the two had worked out together at John Lucas’ camp in Houston. So, Henson – the No. 14 pick in the Draft – had already seen what the NBA D-League Select center could do.
But that didn’t make him any less sore.
“He’s physical. He worked his tail off tonight,” said Henson, who put up 15 points and eight rebounds in the Bucks’ 77-68 win. “Sometimes he got a rebound, then another rebound and kicked it out, and I could hear him gasping for air. But that’s just playing hard, and I like that.”
Daniels has long fought against the perception that he’s a guard trapped in an ideal, mint-condition, genie-granted big man’s body. That he’s wasting a frame that, if you just stuffed it with Chex Mix and kept it upright with a couple pipe cleaners, could probably still grab seven rebounds a night against half of the Eastern Conference. Instead, the rap goes, he’s settled for outside jumpers (never mind that he shot 36.3 percent from 3-point range in college and 45 percent in the D-League in 2011-12) and let smaller people push him around.
All the way to Korea.
Ever since he wrapped up his four-year career at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, Daniels has called Korea his professional home. He’s won two titles there, one with KCC Egis in 2011 and one with Anyang KGC this spring, following a 14-game stint with the Erie BayHawks.
But there’s a reason he’s playing for the Select Team in Vegas, he said. The Korea days are over. They have to be. The country was good to him, he said. But, as he closes in on 30 (he hit 28 in April), he’s done dancing around the fact that if he doesn’t give himself entirely to chasing down his dream of playing in the NBA, he won’t be able to forgive himself.
“I’m hungry, like I haven’t eaten in a week. I’m starving,” Daniels said. “I hope I can get there. I pray I can get there. That's my dream. I didn't grow up saying I want to play basketball in Korea. No disrespect to them, I mean, they gave me a shot. But I didn't grow up saying I want to play basketball in Korea.”
And on a night when his team spent two quarters throwing up shots like they were trying to knock a Frisbee out of a tree and needed everything Daniels could give them, he showed just how serious he is about making it to the next level.
After averaging 17.7 minutes through two games, he stayed on the floor for more than 26 on Thursday night. He picked up 10 points and nine rebounds – five on the offensive glass – and outside of a few lapses, revealed some defensive and offensive post skills that he looks to have picked up over the past year between the NBA D-League and Korea.
“I thought Chris did a good job,” said Select Team coach Eric Musselman. “We talked over and over about rebounding the basketball, and tonight it was even on the glass, and that was a lot to do with Chris and Leo Lyons. Those two guys went in and rebounded the ball, and that’s what we needed.”
Daniels, who got the start, did most of his damage in the second half, helping to fuel a Select rally that brought the game within five points in the closing minutes of the fourth.
“I played like 38-40 minutes a game [in Korea],” Daniels said. “Coming back over here, the transition’s different because you’re playing with Americans who can go. It’s up and down, up and down until the last couple minutes of the third quarter when the game starts to slow down.
“And in the first quarter, the excitement, anxiety, all that rushing at you all at once, that’ll get you tried quick, so you gotta catch your second wind,” he said. “But once you get that second wind you’re good to go.”
And he was. Though it took some time.
Midway through the second quarter, right around the time when it was looking increasingly more likely that he’d have to find an oxygen chamber at the half, he tried to post up and lost the ball to a delicate slap from one of the Bucks’ guards. He’d already missed a layup earlier, and although he had thrown his body onto Henson, forward/center Jarrid Famous (an NBA D-League alum) and Tobias Harris (though less effectively – Harris finished with 21 points and 12 boards), he couldn’t keep up with the Bucks’ more powerful front line.
Then, all of a sudden, the hunger hit.
Daniels made a layup with 4:25 left in the second quarter for his first two points and made it 39-26, Bucks. Then, three minutes later, he grabbed an offensive rebound by out-positioning Famous, tipped it in and got the foul.
A pair of free throws after the break cut the Milwaukee lead down to 50-37, and then, a possession later, Daniels brought out the part of his game that makes him so intriguing as a prospect. He got the ball on the wing, hesitated, faked a pass to steer away the defense and when he saw nobody was guarding him, stroked a 15-footer.
“He’s good – he has good vision and he can pass,” Lyons said. “He can stretch the floor because he can shoot the three. He just gives you more space and more freedom to do what you want on the court.”
“He’s very shifty and y’all didn’t really get a chance to see him much, but I’ve seen him play,” Henson said. “He’s got that floater and the left and the right hooks. He’s got a very European game, in my opinion.”
And if Daniels can do the same thing for two more games in Vegas – if he can keep unrolling the parts of his game long-hidden – he’ll help his odds of keeping that game domestic.
“Everybody who came here to play this week’s been training the past two, three months for this week,” Daniels said. “So it’s a big week, and some people take advantage of it and some people don’t. I’m trying to do it best I can.”