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Saluki forward Dantiel Daniels making big impact as true freshman

January 4, 2012

By Tom Weber
Saluki Media Services

If you’ve seen Saluki forward Dantiel Daniel soar through the air for a dunk or a blocked shot, it might be hard to believe that there was a time when he was, well, clumsy.

The 6-foot-6 freshman hit a major growth spurt when he was in eighth grade and his coordination couldn’t keep up.

“I couldn’t walk and talk at the same time,” he laughed. “I was much bigger than everybody else and really uncoordinated.”

His awkward phase didn’t last long, though. By his freshman year, he was starting for Wentzville High School (Mo.) and went on to lead his team in scoring and rebounding all four years. Daniels averaged a double-double his senior year and was ranked the No. 52 power forward prospect in the country by ESPN.

The adjustment to college basketball has gone almost as smoothly. After 14 games, he’s SIU’s fourth-leading scorer at 7.5 points per game. Most impressively, he leads the Missouri Valley Conference in blocked shots, averaging almost two per contest.

“I didn’t know I was a good shot blocker until my freshman year of high school — I just thought I was bigger,” he said. “When I got to high school, guys were just as big or bigger, and I realized I have a natural instinct for timing and the ability to block a shot.”

Daniels started immediately for Southern Illinois and had nine blocks in his first two games. He suffered a setback in game two against Saint Louis, however, when he pulled a groin muscle.

“It was really bad,” he recalled. “I remember making a spin move, my groin pulled me right back. It limited my athletic ability, my mobility, basically everything.”

Instead of taking trainer Ed Thompson’s treatment advice, he tried to tough-out the injury, which only made it worse. He played briefly in the next game against Northeastern, and then was sidelined for three weeks.

“Next time Ed tells me to come treat or get an ice bag, I’ll do it,” he said. “That was a mistake on my part.”

When Daniels returned, it took a few games to get back in the flow. His game finally fell into place at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Against No. 14 Xavier, he had a career-high 22 points, while frequently battling Musketeers 7-foot center Kenny Frease.

“With the groin injury, I came back kind of sluggish,” Daniels said. “That game boosted my confidence that I could compete against any forward and center around the country.”

Although he’s often at a height disadvantage, with his long arms and muscular frame, Daniels plays much bigger than his listed height.

Dantiel Daniels throws down a dunk against Clemson at the Diamond Head Classic.

“I’ve been playing against guys bigger than me for a long time now, since AAU ball, playing guys, 6-8, 6-9, 6-10,” he said. “I just try to out-muscle them, and if I can’t do that, play smart defense without fouling.”

The youngest of five children was only 10 years old when a guy named Rolan Roberts helped lead Southern Illinois to the Sweet 16 in 2002. Lately, people have noticed how much the two players resemble each other. Roberts was also a 6-foot-6 shot-blocking power forward who was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year in his only season at Southern.

“I don’t know who he is, but I’ve heard that name a lot, and they’ve compared me to him,” Daniels said. “That guy must be good, so I’m honored to be compared to him.”

So far, Daniels has been the most successful member of Chris Lowery’s five-man freshman class, but he predicts big things for his teammates. In fact freshmen Treg Setty and Josh Swan each posted career-highs in scoring last Saturday against Illinois State.

“I’m the muscle-power guy, Josh is finesse and he does a lot of things right, as Coach (Lowery) would say,” said Daniels, giving his personal scouting reporting. “Treg, he gives you a little bit of everything. I think he feels more comfortable now because he’s at his natural position at the three.”

Together, they form the nucleus of what should be a bright future for Saluki Basketball.

“We hang out a lot and really like each other,” Daniels said. “We’ll go bowling, out to eat at Steak & Shake or Denny’s. We have great chemistry.”

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From → Men's Basketball

One Comment
  1. Rosalyn permalink

    Lehgooooo Tiel !!!

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