After a season in Australia, 2014 Raptors draft pick DeAndre Daniels is glad to be back. Daniels has been in the city for five weeks and is training daily with Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo. Visibly stronger, the 23-year-old UConn alum spent his season playing for the Perth Wildcats in a highly competitive league featuring many former NCAA players. Using the season to shift from the power forward spot he played in college to the 3 spot he will play in the NBA, Daniels is eager to get more time in with the Raptors coaching staff.
“I’m here now working and training and trying to get better,” Daniels said. [I want to] show them the stuff I can do and show that I improved and take it from there.”
Although Daniels was halfway across the world, he used the time away from everything he was familiar with to learn how to fend for himself.
“I loved Australia,” Daniels said. “It was a great learning experience going out there by myself. Australia was great, the organization was great, playing for the Perth Wildcats, I loved it. [I] got better, worked on my game, gained some weight and met a lot of good people.”
The Raptors didn’t have a roster spot for Daniels last season, but they stayed in close contact with him. Director of scouting Dan Tolzman said the team sent members of its staff over to see him at various points during the year.
Describing the league Daniels played in as “on the come up,” Tolzman mentioned there were players on NBA rosters last season who had spent the previous year playing in the Australian league. For Daniels, the team looked at his season in Perth as another step in his development similar to an additional year of college.
“From the front office standpoint, we were in touch with his agent all of the time, always keeping tabs on him and monitoring, letting both him and his representation know that he’s a part of our system,” Tolzman said. “We didn’t send him literally halfway across the world to not care about him. We put him in a spot that we thought was a good fit for him and a place he could really develop.”
Spending much of the year communicating with Toronto teammates via text messages, Daniels was pleasantly surprised to see the changes in Caboclo on and off the floor since the two spent last summer training together.
“He’s gotten stronger,” Daniels said. “And definitely, the biggest thing I've noticed is he can speak more and better English. He’s just nonstop talking. It’s good.”
Despite being a half-day ahead in terms of time zones during his time in Australia, Daniels still kept up with the Raptors. Even when it meant setting the alarm extra early.
“I would wake up sometimes early in the morning just to watch them play at like 4 in the morning,” Daniels said. “Sometimes just to be watching, that was probably the toughest part. I just tried to stay focused, keep working hard and have faith in God.”
While the Australian league wasn’t on the same tier as the top teams in Spain or Italy, it was an ideal place for Daniels to hone his skills.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting used to the physicality of pro basketball,” Tolzman said. “High level college basketball is good, but when you are playing with grown men that are bigger and stronger, you just get used to the hits and the speed of the game. I think spending a year in Australia really helped him kind of get used to the different positions he will be playing at our level and just learning to take those hits and play through them.”
With his first season as a professional athlete under his belt, Daniels is ready for more. In 30 games with the Wildcats, he averaged 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and a block per contest. In addition to improving his shooting and ballhandling, Daniels knows his defensive skills will be an important part of his game at the next level. Since returning to Toronto, the coaching staff has outlined what it wants to see from him this summer. He’s taken the instructions to heart.
“My goal is definitely to be here,” Daniels said. “This is where I want to be so I’ll be here working hard and try to earn a spot on this team.”