Austin Daye: The Next Generation
March 4, 2014
Austin Daye used to take a pounding on the court, a beating from a man he called, “dad.” When Austin drove to the basket, he banged into a 6-foot 8-inch wall of obstruction. When Austin tried going up and under, dad blocked the shot.
As the son grew, the father dug in. Their games of one-on-one became fierce, memorable. “He would never let me win,” says Austin, the Spurs’ newest acquisition. “Never. Those battles were tough.”
When he was a junior in high school, the son broke through and beat dad. The blessing of the defeated fell sweetly on young ears. “You’re really getting good,” the father said. “I can’t stop you anymore. You can do whatever you want.”
It wasn’t until then that Darren Daye considered the possibility. His son might be good enough to follow him into the NBA. Darren played five seasons with the Washington Bullets, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics in the 1980s. He played another nine seasons in Italy, France and Israel.
He raised his son to put school ahead of sports, to pursue education more aggressively than hoops. At the same time, Darren taught Austin how to dribble and shoot. He even served as an assistant on Austin’s AAU teams in seventh and eighth grade. But Austin was a late bloomer, a good ballplayer, but not an elite prospect until his late teens.
“He wasn’t a superior player until the end of his 11th grade year,” Darren says. “That’s when I thought he had a chance. But the odds were long. Very long.”
Three years later, the family gathered to watch the 2009 NBA Draft. The Detroit Pistons took Austin with the 15th pick. There were shouts, tears, eruptions of joy.
Days after arriving in a trade with Toronto, Austin reflected on the journey after practice, on growing up as the son of an NBA player. It was cool practicing with his father. It was hard growing up in his shadow. In Southern California, everyone knew Darren Daye. McDonald’s All-American in high school. Star at UCLA.
“I was expected to do things at a young age a lot of kids couldn’t do,” Austin says. “It was tough but I never really wanted to let him down.”
There were times the son looked up in the stands and saw dad drop his head in disappointment. There were times the son took stern correction from dad the coach. In 8th grade, Austin stood 6-1 and played against high school players on the AAU circuit. He didn’t always stand out. In 9th grade, Austin made the JV while some peers played varsity.
The sting went deep. Kids without NBA bloodlines attracted college recruiters. Austin attracted stares. That’s Darren Daye’s son.
Then Austin began to grow. He hit 6-4 as a sophomore and ran the point. Over the summer, he grew five inches. He kept running the point as a 6-11 senior because he was the best at bringing the ball up the court. Now he was special, a big with handles who could run the floor, score inside and knock down threes. He averaged 30.9 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.4 blocks.
All those years of training with his father -- the dribbling, the shooting, the endless games of one-on-one -- were now paying dividends. He signed with Gonzaga. Two years later, he was a first round pick. “It was an incredible thrill to see his dreams come true,” Darren says.
Dreams? Darren has loved the Spurs for at least a quarter century. More than a decade ago, Darren took Austin to a game to watch a young rookie point guard, Tony Parker. Now his son wears silver and black.
“For me this is phenomenal,” Darren says. “The Spurs have been my favorite team for a long time. And Gregg Popovich has been the best coach in basketball since he started with David Robinson. I’m really excited. With his superior coaching ability, he can help my son and turn his career around.”
Father and son talk every day. Austin calls to tell him about his new teammates, the coaches, their professionalism and attention to detail. What are the odds? You follow your dad into the NBA and midway through your fifth season, get traded to his favorite team.
Once, father and son banged hard under the basket. Now they share an uncommon NBA bond. “My father and I are real close,” Austin says. “Probably as close as any father and son. We have our ups and downs. He’s been tough on me. But he’s a great father, one of the best people I know.”