Daniels Ready To Get To Work With Raptors After NCAA Title Run

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com 

DeAndre Daniels is happy to be dealing with lower stress levels than he was a week ago.

While Brazilian rookie Bruno Caboclo learned that the Toronto Raptors had selected him 20th overall from a journalist’s Twitter account in the backseat of a New York City cab, Daniels was surrounded by family in Connecticut, watching the draft on TV. Or, he was until it got to be too much.

“I was nervous the whole time,” Daniels said. “I kind of wanted to watch it by myself. I kept going back and forth in and out of the room and then when it got to [the 30th pick] I went into my room and laid down. 

“I guess the 37th pick came and they called my name. I was still laying down. Everybody started screaming and running around. I thought, ‘Oh wow.’ Everybody came running into the room, jumping on me, family members crying. It was a great moment.”

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The 6-foot-9 forward is in Los Angeles, training hard with some of his new Raptors teammates and coaching staff. After his second session of the day, Daniels laughs easily and is extremely personable, despite the long day in the gym.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s good to see guys early, come out, get to play with them. Just talking with guys like Amir [Johnson], DeMar [DeRozan], listening to them and doing whatever they tell me to do because these guys have been in the league for a long time. It’s so great to get out here early, get our workouts in and then head out to [Las] Vegas for Summer League.”

Daniels grew up in Los Angeles and has been familiar with Johnson and DeRozan since his high school days. In addition to working out with his vets, Caboclo arrived in L.A. Tuesday.

Reflecting back on draft night, Daniels said the rest of the evening was a quiet affair for he and his family. Rather than going out to celebrate, he elected to stay in and soak up more time with his siblings and said the family was awake until almost 5 A.M. Just talking.

“I definitely shed a few tears with my family and now it’s just the beginning. I have to keep working hard and prove it to the team.”

While he hasn’t spent any time in Toronto besides visiting the city for a pre-draft workout, Daniels was touched by the support he received from Raptors fans after he was selected. Shortly afterward, he posted a note to his Twitter account thanking the team for the opportunity.

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Daniels. Besides being drafted in June, he helped lead the Connecticut Huskies to a national championship in April. Named to the FInal Four all-tournament team, Daniels averaged 16 points and 7.2 rebounds in six tournament games.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “Unreal. To this day it still hasn’t hit me. It went by, every game, so fast. It was just a great thing to be a part of. To see our team come together at the right time, playing for each other, going out there playing hard and having fun. It’s an unreal feeling to win a national championship.”

Although Daniels admitted that the can initially be shy when meeting people for the first time, his favourite thing to do on the basketball court is deliver a dunk that energizes the crowd. When he’s not playing basketball, he’s on his XBox playing Call of Duty and NBA 2K, or trying to teach himself the guitar he bought during his freshman year at UConn.

“It’s frustrating because I want to play it now rather than going through all the steps trying to learn,” he said. “I just want to learn it right away but it’s something I try to do to get my mind off stuff.”

A fan of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Carmelo Anthony, Daniels is now focused on showing the Raptors what he can bring to the table. Shooting 42 per cent from beyond the arc last year while leading his team in rebounds, Daniels is excited to see what will be asked of him at the next level. Most of all, he wants people to know he is about winning.

“[I’m] a guy that is willing to do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “Whatever the coaching staff needs [me] to do. Rebound, block shots, play defence, I really can do it and I give 100 per cent. At the end of the day, all I care about is winning.”

Anxious to get to Las Vegas for summer league, Daniels took a moment to recall how it felt to wake up last Friday morning, a day after the draft.

 “I was still happy and excited,” he said. “My little brothers woke me up and they were like, ‘Man. You made it.’ My little brothers definitely look up to me so I’d say that was the best part about it. 

“It was really sweet. It was definitely the best part about it.”