STORRS — He finished strong last season. He finished so strong that those last four games in which he averaged 21.3 points, nine rebounds and 3.3 blocks became a giant espresso in the narrative of DeAndre Daniels of Los Angeles.
He seemed to get everybody over-caffeinated.
Look at the upside potential. Sure, he has to get stronger, tougher, more consistent, but he sure looks like he's getting stronger, tougher, more consistent. And, man, look at the skill set for a guy 6-9. Exactly how good can he be? Could he even leave for the 2013 NBA Draft? No. OK, then what about the 2014 NBA Draft?
On AAC media day last month, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said that Daniels might be the best pro prospect in the league. So where is he going to go next June? High? Low? Higher? Lower?
On a UConn team that is built on its guard play, there was tendency to treat Daniels as the giant wild card.
Then the season started. And the Quiet Man played awfully, awfully quiet. He shot 4-for-9, including 0-for-3 from three, had three blocks, two steals in the opener against Maryland and didn't look as good as his line. Against Yale, he figured to have a breakout game. He shot 0-for-5 in 18 minutes. Nothing. The first half against Detroit was no better. He shot 0-for-4 and, saddled with two early fouls, he played only six minutes.
The first seven halves of his junior season?
"I played awful," Daniels said. "Plain and simple, I played awful. I didn't shoot the ball. I didn't do nothing. Didn't rebound. I was selfish. I wasn't playing hard. I wasn't making shots. It was getting to my head."
While Huskies fans were falling in love with Amida Brimah's shot-swatting and the ein, zwei, drei-point shot of Niels Giffey, they were wondering when Daniels was going to join what figures to be a fairly heady UConn season.
After the 77-60 victory over Boston University Sunday at Gampel Pavilion in which Daniels scored 24 points — two shy of his career mark — consider Daniels officially joined.
"I just wanted to stay aggressive the whole time," Daniels said. "I played terrible for two games. I wasn't able to knock down shots and I let it get to me."
The Huskies ran the first play for Daniels. He got fouled and sank two free throws.
"From there it was off to the races," coach Kevin Ollie said.
Before you knew it, Daniels had eight of the Huskies' first 10 points and 10 of their first 12 as they took leads of 10-0 and 12-2. Wow.
"His first two shots went in, and once he saw them go in, he had a rhythm," Ryan Boatright said. "It was all going in from there. If he were to miss those first three shots, I think he would have hung his head a little like, 'Man, what's going on?' We try to stay on him and tell him we're going to need him to be a great team."
Daniels had 11 points in the second half against Detroit. So after scoring zero points in the three halves, Daniels has 35 in the past three halves. Yes, the DeWow is back in DeAndre.
"Guys were finding him, he was hitting his shots, looking aggressive," Ollie said. "There was nothing special we did with the game plan. He had the ability to pick-and-pop but also was able to be aggressive on the low post and also took it into the lane for dunks. He was still 1-for-5 from the three-point line, but I'm not worried about that. He's going to keep shooting.
"One thing I didn't hear from DeAndre [were] excuses. He said, 'Coach, I'm going to stay in this gym and get it done. I'll be there for you.' I appreciate his hard work. A lot of other guys on other teams maybe would complain. You didn't hear a peep out of him."
One peep that Ollie obviously doesn't want to hear out of people is that Daniels' confidence ebbs and flows.
"I don't know who told you that," said Ollie.
Shabazz Napier was the reply.
"That's Shabazz saying that," Ollie said. "I think the guy is confident and he showed us today that he is confident. He just kept working. People are going to go through slumps … let's talk about the last three halves he put together. They're pretty damn good."
Yes, they were. And so was a wicked slam dunk by Daniels that made it 53-46 with 13:04 left in the game. Napier got one of his 12 rebounds and instead of trying to go back up for a layup he found Daniels charging down the paint.
"I was missing so many shots today that I didn't feel confident taking an easy layup," Napier said. "I saw DeAndre coming in and he made a great play and dunked it over [Nathan Dieudonne]. I'll definitely take that over my layup."
Losing confidence at times … pouting a bit if the ball doesn't go in … in a slump … over-thinking, it's not always easy to find the perfect word, but make no mistake. Daniels has to battle whatever "it" is when everything isn't going his way. Ollie, as his coach, certainly doesn't want to introduce doubt into the equation. And for his part, Daniels said, yes, his confidence is still there. And after going 10-for18, why shouldn't it be? After shooting 31 percent on threes last season, of course, he's still only 2-for-12 so far.
"He has to have the ball in his hands and the best scoring opportunity for him," said Napier, the unquestioned sheriff on the floor. "Sometimes he's thinking too much whether to take a three, a pull-up or just go to the basket. That in your head is too much. That's why you've got to put him in the best scoring opportunity and he'll figure it out. He's a smart player."
Daniels, in the meantime, acknowledges that he must be determined that if shots aren't falling, he has to rebound [10 in 99 minutes this season is not nearly good enough], block shots, defend, find open teammates with the ball. He also knew his coach and his teammates were looking to get him going on this Sunday. When it was 19-4 early, it looked like the Terriers were going to lose 100-15, but they tightened their 2-3 zone, played hard, started hitting threes in transition and actually took a 43-42 lead.
BU coach Joe Jones said that the Terriers went into the game looking to contain Napier and Boatright on their ball-screen action. BU identified Giffey better than other teams had. The trade off on the zone, and Ollie said he said it on tape, was leaving Daniels open in the middle. He took advantage of his mismatch to find shots from around the foul line.
"We knew that Daniels could have a good game," Jones said. "Twenty-four points worth, I didn't know, but we know he's a terrific player. He's a terrific athlete. He has great size. He's very skilled. I know he's struggling with the three, but he's very capable of making an open three. He can put the ball on the floor. He can post you up. They had a size advantage at that spot. They went to him early. He delivered. He has got a bright future."
Yep, the DeWow was back in DeAndre. He has the kind of talent to get folks over-caffeinated in one afternoon.