Cali's DeAndre Daniels Makes Four

On Thursday, coach Rick Barnes and company received a fourth commitment for the 2011 class -- DeAndre Daniels, a 6-7.5, long, lanky combo forward from Woodland Hills, CA. Once again, Rick Barnes gains another commitment from a talented wing player and takes a further step in assuring that Texas basketball will keep opposing coaches awake at nigh attempting to deal with the match-up nightmare that will be created on the perimeter.

Once again, the one year that Kevin Durant spent playing basketball at Texas pays dividends in recruiting, as it has for almost every wing that has committed since KD was sinking buckets on the 40 Acres.  Durant helped set the stage for a new Longhorn era of long, versatile frontcourt perimeter athletes that will include Jordan Hamilton, Daniel Bejarano, Tristan Thompson, Sheldon McClellan, and, now, Daniels, who was pursued by many of the top programs in the country, including Kentucky (how did Worldwide Wes not get to him?).

Judging from the comments of Daniels and his AAU coach, a simple query into the reasons for choosing Texas reveals KD's fingerprints all over this commitment.

Daniels:

I started liking Texas ($) when Kevin Durant went there. Since then, Texas has always been my favorite.

Texas has always been my number one school ($) from day one since Kevin Durant played there. Their style of play fits me.

Coach Waddey:

He's a big fan of Kevin Durant ($). He's in that same type of mold.

I love you, KD.

Of course, Durant suiting up for the Longhorns has to go back to Rick Barnes and the coaching staff, the group that made Durant feel comfortable in Austin as Barnes began to incorporate the Phoenix run-and-game philosophy made possible by KD and DJ Augustin. As much as fans like to criticize Barnes for lacking an "offensive system" at times, the Texas coach deserves credit for making the adjustment. And all these young wings love it. "I wanted a coach who would let his wings get off," said Jordan Hamilton.

It's an easy comparison to make, but Rick Barnes seems like he's on a Mack Brown-type of roll here getting commitments all made possible by the comfort level these kids develop almost immediately at Texas and the "family atmosphere." Somewhat cliche, both, but the simple commitment is the proof. Daniels on that commitment:

It just felt like family when I went there. It was just a gut feeling. It just felt good and a perfect fit. The family atmosphere was strong at Texas. I didn't get that feel everywhere...The day I met Coach Barnes, I felt comfortable around him. He told me about the program and how the offense works. I trust him.

And don't underestimate Myck Kabongo's impact on this class -- it's probably not a coincidence that after he committed, the other three followed. In a lot of ways, this class is developing a lot like the 2009 football class; Garrett Gilbert's early commitment greatly heightened Texas' appeal for the rest of the class, just as being able to play with an unselfish (almost to a fault on occasion), pure point guard who can push the pace appealed to Daniels, et al.

Speaking of the others, the Cali forward joins McClellan, the aforementioned Kabongo, and recent commit Julien Lewis. All four players are currently ranked in the Rivals Top 100, with McClellan checking in at no. 25, Kabongo at 31, Daniels at 45, and Lewis at 65 -- this already looks like an incredible class.

Of the four, Daniels may have the most potential to rise in the rankings, as he has only played basketball for about four years and is still improving rapidly. Combine the fact that he is older than his 2011 classmates after he recently re-classified from the 2010 class after sitting out a season because of transfer rules after becoming a student at Woodland HIlls Taft. Daniels also may have another growth spurt before he reaches his eventual height, as some expect him to reach 6-9 to 6-10.

As a relative latecomer to the game, conventional wisdom on Daniels holds that he greatly improved during the last year and is still scratching the surface of his potential. If he continues to work hard on his game and improve at the rate he has been, he should end up being the closest thing to Kevin Durant to play at Texas. That isn't to say that he can become Kevin Durant-good, because let's face it, the college ranks will probably only see one KD. Rather, it's a commentary on the similarities to their games -- nearly the same height, same lanky frame and long arms, same inside/outside game, same comfort level handling the rock and slashing to the basket. Durant-lite, say (hey, I'll take that).

It's the inside game that's the projection, considered the rawest part of his game by everyone but his AAU coach (surprise, surprise) and a definite area for focus if he wants to even approximate Durant. By all reports Daniels plays with the type of energy and willingness to bang that suggests a willingness to learn and he should have ample opportunity in his final two years of high school play (and experience gained on the summer circuit, perhaps more importantly) to get a lot of game experience in the post against shorter players and some basic moves. Basically, the idea is that if opposing coaches put a smaller player on Daniels to slow him down on the perimeter, he backs them down or takes them to the box. Against a slower power forward, Daniels beats them off the dribble. Unless you have a Marcus Dove, nameless opposing coach. Got one? Didn't think so.

The YouTube clip below shows Daniels focusing almost exclusively on those perimeter skills and ability to shoot coming off screens and moving without the ball -- recall that all this post-up stuff is down the road. Most reports describe Daniels as having a developing jump shot, with Gerry Hamilton saying he needs to work on his mechanics ($) and another says that he's a little "stiff" at times and doesn't get much lift. Of course, an edited video against air doesn't provide a lot of answers to those criticisms, but it does confirm that Daniels still doesn't have much lift on his jumper. Neither did DJ Augustin and it seemed to work out fine for him, so I don't think it's a big concern with Daniels' length.

It's also worth pointing about that the comment about Daniels looking stiff came a year and a half ago, a long time within the context of Daniels' development. A report from May, when Daniels sent his stock soaring after strong camp performances, says that Daniels is now "ultra smooth" with his shot and has range out to the three-point line, an assessment Hamilton confirms.

Even though he hasn't played the game as long as most other players his age, Daniels seems to have a high basketball IQ, particularly in the area of decision-making. Possessing the disposition and capability to rebound in traffic, Daniels can also get out in the open court without making the type of terrible decisions that Damion James did last year when doing the same. On the video, Daniels looks like he has capable handles, but once again, it's edited and he's playing against either air or short guys. However, none of the scouting reports raise any significant concerns about that part of his game, so it's safe to assume at this point his perimeter game wouldn't suffer from a focus on his interior game.

Besides post moves, the major concerns about Daniels are his overall strength and ability to move his feet when guarding small forwards off the bounce. Like Durant, Daniels is skinny to the point of nearly looking emaciated, meaning that Daniels needs some serious strength work to finish better through contact and hold his position when playing post defense, but he reportedly puts in the effort to deny entry passes and use his length to his advantage.

Recall that Durant also continues to struggle in the area of lateral quickness, part of the reason why the experiment of playing Durant at shooting guard was ill-conceived (in 07-08, he allowed his opponent 10 more points per game at the two) and why he improved last season back at the three. Daniels just needs to work to maximize what explosiveness he has and then use his determination and length to bother the opponent. That should suffice in college.

The issue of explosiveness raises another concern, albeit relatively minor. Daniels is known for a high activity level whenever he plays, but while one report says he's a quick leaper, he's not particularly explosive, once again, kinda like Durant. Like Durant, his length and perimeter abilities effectively make him faster, as does his ability to catch-and-shoot, which appears to have some serious potential. In the end, any criticism of Daniels' explosiveness is a minor quibble.

Overall, Daniels is an extremely talented, if not overly athletic, combo forward with the ability to add an inside game and vault into the top 20 in his class. His strong work ethic and high intensity level will help propel that growth. Even if he doesn't develop consistent post moves, he will still be extremely difficult to match up with on the perimeter with his ability to handle the basketball and knock down open looks. Daniels will fit extremely well in the up-tempo game lead by Myck Kabongo and Daniels will only increase the speed of the game with his ability to rebound and lead the fastbreak himself and make plays in the open court. Another great catch for the Longhorn basketball team and the future keeps looking brighter and brighter.

DeAndre Daniels dominates short guys and air. Sweet! (via jdjk23)

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