Academic Progress: Two Smart Decisions In Storrs

Daniels, Boatright Make Right Call

DeAndre Daniels announced Friday that he is entering the NBA draft. Ryan Boatright announced he is staying at UConn for his senior season.

They made the correct decisions.

The two three-pointers in a 102-second span that turned Florida's 16-4 lead into sawdust 13 minutes into the Final Four game screamed Daniels' intentions.

He wasn't going to be soft anymore. He could overcome early adversity. He wasn't going to be anybody's wallflower. A day earlier, his former coach Jim Calhoun had told Daniels that no one was watching him. His response? "Everybody's going to be talking about me after Saturday."

With 14:21 remaining in UConn's stifling 63-53 victory over the No. 1 Gators, Daniels took a post pass from Amida Bromah, drove through the lane and dunked over two, three, four Florida players. He posterized every Gator not named Tim Tebow. It was then the 6-foot-9 Daniels, the most understated UConn star since Jeremy Lamb — Silence of the Daniels doesn't have the same ring, does it? — did an unlike-DeAndre thing.

In the midst of his 20-point, 10-rebound double-big stage-double, Daniels fired off a salute into the national television camera. Nearly 80,000 fans inside AT&T Stadium bore witness. At least to these eyes, it was at once a message that he simultaneously had arrived and would soon be leaving. Certainly Daniels, as promised, had everybody talking about him.

He would walk away from reporters with a "no comment" the day of the national championship parade and he didn't attend the team's trip to Fenway Park. So it was not much of a surprise Friday when he announced he would forgo his senior season. The eye-popping, 27-point game against Iowa State, the splendid NCAA Tournament, yes, it finally had come all together for the long, lean, junior from LA. When you do it all with the nation watching, that legion of scouting detractors who pointed to his lack of physical strength and mental inconsistencies can change their minds in a hurry.

With a number of top players in an otherwise loaded NBA draft deciding to return to school, Daniels clearly is armed with feedback that he should be selected in a good spot. We'll see in June but some mock drafts have him as high as late in the first round.

Daniels is the 16th player in school history to leave early. Of the previous 15, 14 were drafted in the first round and 13 were lottery picks. That's a strong track record of the program accumulating data and analyzing the data correctly. Ultimately, however, it comes down to the player, his family, their view of the basketball world and their financial needs.

"We wholeheartedly support the decision he has made and wish him nothing but success as he moves ahead with his basketball career," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He will always be part of our UConn family."

"I will always bleed blue, I will always love this program," Daniels said. "There have been ups and downs, but it's been the best three years of my life. Today, when I thought about leaving, I even cried a little bit because I love this school and the friends I've made here to death. But I'm excited to follow the dream I've had since I was a little kid."

With Daniels and Boatright, I was always already making flight reservations to the 2015 Final Four. Without Daniels, they will forever have the 2014 national championship. Yes, the Great X Factor has become the Ex-Factor, but I'm not wondering why on this one. DeAndre is striking when the DeIron is hot.

"I sat down with my family and we discussed it and everyone agreed," Daniels said, "but the final decision was still mine and it was hard. I had a great career at UConn and I wouldn't change it for the world, and to go out on top like we did makes it even better."

From the day he committed to UConn in 2011 without having visited the school, the talent was there. The way he committed to Texas and de-committed, feigned to Kansas and Kentucky, showed up in Storrs, Daniels has been a fascinating study. He found residence in Calhoun's Chateau Bow Wow during his freshman season. He was inconsistent as a sophomore. There also was a string of games at the end of last year when he was nearly unstoppable. He outplayed Big East player of the year Otto Porter and, man, it seemed legitimate last spring that he could peek at the NBA.

By midseason, however, that view seemed like a joke. One scout told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv and NBA.com that he was playing like a "WNBA player." Ouch. Yes, he had 31 against Temple, but there were clunkers in there. He'd defer. And if matters didn't perk up, he'd disappear. There was an ankle injury, but more than that Ollie urged and urged him to put his best foot forward. He would.

At one point in the tournament, Ollie said, "DeAndre didn't say a complete sentence before he got here. You can't shut him up now. Now we're trying to get him to get that role more on the court, where he's more vocal and in a leadership role." While the media never heard the Chatty DD, everyone saw him scream the last month.

Maybe he could have been a lottery pick next year, or heaven forbid, sustain a serious injury. The future is never certain. He's still fairly skinny and at 22 maybe he always will be, but it is naive to believe the NBA regimen won't make him stronger. He can shoot. He can slash. He can play big time. And he may well be better suited for the pro game. The real world might be just what he needs as a kick in the butt to play with abandon and confidence every night.

Boatright, of course, never lacks for confidence. Listed overzealously at 6-0, Boat reportedly was looking at leaving UConn, but didn't get draft-status love. Kevin Ollie loved it though.

"I couldn't be happier that Ryan will be back with us next season," Ollie said, "not only for his terrific basketball talents, but to provide tremendous senior leadership for us both on and off the court. The growth and maturity he has shown throughout his career has been wonderful."

His game was out of control at times in the past. He'd drive the lane, get tangled in a forest of bodies and nothing good came of it. His game sometimes came off as selfish. His transformation this past season also was something to behold. His on-ball, perimeter defense became UConn legend through the tournament. Who knew the Boat Show would include a number of acts as Ricky Moore's ghost? He still needs to knock the jump shot down consistently. He still needs to run the team with the nuanced touch of exactly when to distribute and exactly when to take it on your shoulders. Being The Man has to be a fascinating challenge for him.

If reports are true and he really wanted to go pro, it's vital he reinvest everything back into school and the program. Without Shabazz, to invoke an Ollieism, Boatright has to make sure all 10 toes are in. With Rodney Purvis and Daniel Hamilton coming in, this is going to be a very good team. Boatright has much to gain by running a Top 20 team under a former NBA guard. No, he can't make himself any taller, but he can become the alpha dog who learns how to be in control while being in control. Europe or the D-League would have put some money in his pocket, but another March run might put a lot more, not to mention quench a thirst he showed under the Capitol dome after the parade.

"It's not even about being The Man," Boatright said. "These types of experience drive you to want to do it again. This is unbelievable. It's is a blessing. All this is love, right here."

All Boatright has to do is walk around campus today and he'll feel plenty of that love.

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