DeAndre Daniels

DeAndre Daniels of UConn slams over Lucas Van Nes of Southern Connecticut State University during the first half of their exhibition game Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion. (John Woike / Hartford Courant / October 30, 2013)

STORRS — Toward the end of last season, NBA scouts began showing up at UConn games to take notes on DeAndre Daniels.

And he gave them plenty to write down. After a quiet freshman year and an inconsistent start to his sophomore year at UConn, Daniels broke out of his shell over the last handful of games.

"DeAndre's an unbelievable player, I tell him that all the time," said Ryan Boatright, Daniels' roommate. "'You could be the No. 1 pro prospect in this conference. You've just got to come and bring it every day,' and he believes in that."

Though Daniels, 6 feet 9 and 195 pounds, has not made the major Top 100 player lists and was not named to the first or second team in the American Athletic Conference preseason voting, there is no lack of recognition in Storrs. In the first exhibition game, Daniels picked up where he left off, with 21 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes against Southern Connecticut.

He looked, in every way, like the best player on the court, and that's the way coach Kevin Ollie wants it.

"That starts when he walks into this gym," Ollie said. "He's got to walk in like, 'I'm the best basketball player and I'm going to show it and I'm going to prove it.'"

The Huskies, who beat Southern 93-65 Wednesday night, have one more exhibition game, against Concordia, on Monday night at the XL Center. They were ranked 18th in the AP writers poll that came out Thursday.

As Daniels has become more assertive on the court, his personality is reflecting it, too. The shy man has retreated to the shadows, perhaps for good.

"DeAndre's not the most talkative guy," Ollie said. "He's not the life of the party when he's off the court. But when you get on the court, your alter ego takes over and you change into a different person. He's starting to realize that. He's changed. He's coming to the office, talking to his coaches. That's a beautiful thing, when you've got a young kid who came in and hardly said a sentence and now you can't shut him up. That's maturity. I think he's going to have an incredible year."

Said Boatright: "He's done an unbelievable job at becoming outspoken. When I first met him, man, he was so quiet. He literally stared at his phone all day. He didn't say two words all day. I'm sure he'll be the one to tell you, we've been living together three years, he acts exactly like me now. K.O. will probably say, 'You've been around Boat too much, you're talking too much.'"

For Daniels, the words simply followed the results, and experience. "It's just more confidence in myself," he said. "Talking to K.O., that's the main thing he's telling me to do. Just talk. Talk on defense. Once you step between the lines, your personality has got to change. That's what I've been focusing on."

Daniels arrived at UConn as a top recruit but played sparingly, and not effectively, as a freshman. Last season, despite his wiry body, he had to take on the power forward role. He showed flashes, but there were games, such as the Big East opener at Marquette, when he was muscled away from the boards and Ollie would sit him down.

But Daniels would respond. He scored a career high 26 points against DePaul in the next game. Near the end of the season, Daniels had 25 points and 10 rebound in a matchup with Otto Porter Jr. and Georgetown, and with Shabazz Napier out, he got another double-double, 23 and 10, at South Florida. He finished the season with a 12.1 scoring average, and a team-leading 5.5 rebounding mark.

"I just want to keep doing what I did at the end of the season, be aggressive, rebound," Daniels said. "Do everything they need me to do. I'm just learning to be a leader, talk more on defense, help the young guys out when they get down, tell them they can do it, keep working hard."

Daniels spent three days at Kevin Durant's skills camp for wing forwards in June. With his size, including a 7-foot wing span and proficiency both under the basket and on the perimeter, he fits more naturally into a pro position at small forward.

"He's been about upside his whole career," said Chad Ford, ESPN's NBA draft analyst. "The physical tools are clearly there. It's all about consistency for him. Can he bring it for 40 minutes every night? He can be invisible at times and that's a big issue. He also needs to continue to improve that jumper. He has first-round potential, but as a junior he now has to live up to the potential."