From the moment DeAndre Daniels set foot in Perth he had a good feeling he’d found a new brotherhood.
“As soon as I got off the plane everybody was trying to give me nicknames,” he laughed.
“But everybody just keeps it simple, everybody just calls me Dre.”
A Toronto Raptors draftee, Daniels was touted as a superstar of the NBL, but endured a slow start to his professional career as he recovered from elbow and eye surgery.
That’s nothing new for the 22-year-old, who has come from behind the eight-ball his entire career, not taking the sport up until his freshman year at high school.
“The reason I got into basketball was I moved in with my dad, my whole life I had lived with my mum,” he said, adding he just “ran around doing stuff kids do” before he found hoops.
“My dad taught me how to play basketball and I just took it from there.”
Few observers at his first high school game in Slidell, Louisiana could have guessed this young man would be a future NCAA champion and NBA draft selection.
“I was just mad nervous, I wasn’t very good, I could barely chew gum and walk at the same time,” Daniels laughed, remembering how much he enjoyed it regardless.
“I did, and I could see myself getting better, so I just worked hard every day so I kept getting better.”
By the end of his sophomore season he was getting interest from colleges and, now in California, a move to Taft High School brought Daniels together with a young guard named Spencer Dinwiddie.
“Me and him spent a lot of time working together, going through a lot of stuff,” Daniels said.
“He was good in high school but I never pictured him and me going back-to-back in the draft. We were definitely two guys who just wanted to get better.”
By back-to-back he means picks 37 and 38 in this year’s NBA Draft – Daniels from the University of Connecticut and Dinwiddie from Colorado – something he describes as “special”.
But Daniels’ time at U-Conn was far from a story of dominance. Much like his high school ascent, he had to work from the ground up.
“Rebounding and blocking shots, as a freshman that’s what I had to do, and play defence,” he said.
“The team I was on had a lot of guys who could score. It was a learning curve for me and it definitely helped me in the long run.
“I just tried to keep my head down and work hard and improve. Those were the things I could control.”
Slowly but surely Daniels’ hard work began to pay off, becoming a starter in his second season, averaging in double figures and notching a career high of 26 points against DePaul.
In his junior year he went up another level, leading his team in scoring 11 times, but few could have seen the fury he would unleash in U-Conn’s 2014 NCAA Championship run.
Backing up from his 27-point, 10-board performance in the Sweet 16, Daniels became the first player since Carmelo Anthony to have 20 points and 10 rebounds in a Final Four game, securing a place in the All-Final Four Team.
“As the season kept going on I was playing my best basketball, I just kept getting better, so at the end of the season I was playing with more confidence,” he said.
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Source: The original article was posted Friday, November 21, 2014, at www.nbl.com.au