By Andrew Kahn
There is a certain kind of athlete who, because of his talent and demeanor, looks like he’s not trying. He glides through the game but doesn’t seem to take over. Fans often wonder why he didn’t do more; then they check the box score and see he did plenty. DeAndre Daniels is that type of player. Among his fellow Connecticut Huskies, he ranks second in scoring, rebounding, and blocks. Playing alongside Shabazz Napier, he can go unnoticed. If UConn, the 7 seed in the East Region, makes an NCAA Tournament run, Daniels will be a big reason why.
The 6’7,” 195-pound forward out of Woodland Hills, Calif., was ranked tenth by Rivals (Scout had him No. 31) coming out of high school. He committed to Jim Calhoun, though only played one year for the now-retired coach. Daniels averaged 12 minutes a game as a freshman. He has flourished under Kevin Ollie, averaging 29 minutes the past two seasons and upping his stats across the board: 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds this season. After inconsistent outside shooting his first two years, he has hit 46 percent from deep as a junior.
UConn is best known for Napier, its All-America candidate, and his backcourt mate Ryan Boatright, two undersized guards who dominate possessions with their fancy ball handling. Daniels takes pressure off them with his ability to drive to the hoop and pull taller defenders outside of the paint. With 7-foot freshman Amida Brimah developing as a reliable presence on both ends of the court, UConn doesn’t need Daniels to be a traditional power forward.
Daniels scored 31 against Temple in January, his fifth 20-plus point game of the season. After an ankle sprain caused him to miss two games and limit his effectiveness for some time after, he looks fully healthy: in his last four games, all against ranked teams, he’s averaged 15 points and eight boards.
That is exactly the kind of output Ollie expects from the talented, athletic Daniels on a regular basis. “Eight rebounds should be his minimum,” Ollie told the Connecticut Post in January. “He can do it once he focuses.” In the same article, Boatright said he tries to get Daniels easy baskets early in the game so the big man will give more effort in other aspects of the game. That’s not exactly a compliment, but Daniels didn’t deny it. “When I first get a couple shots and I see a couple shots go in, that’s when I feel I’ll be more aggressive during the game.”
The Huskies were ineligible for postseason play last year. They’ll face St. Joe’s, a 10 seed, on Thursday; win, and they’ll play the Villanova/Milwaukee winner. Both games will be in Buffalo. If you think UConn can make a run, perhaps it’s because you think Napier will do his best Kemba Walker impression. But for the Huskies to do damage, Daniels, the guy who makes it look easy, will have to be at his best.
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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