Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Briarcliff Product Daniels Adjusting To New Challenge

Brian Daniels took a man-size step, extended his left hand to the basket and levitated above the rim.

Skyward-bound, the then-freakish freshman’s eyes were lit up wide.

From the looks of it, Daniels was eager to flush a ferocious one-handed dunk.

Then again, it was just layup lines. Cramming home a dunk during these warm-up rituals would result in a technical foul at the start of regulation.

And so Daniels laid in a light, authority-free layup and quickly retreated to the end of the rebounding line.

The athleticism, the trampoline-like hops were evident. In his first year of high school, Daniels had the build of an upperclassman.

When Daniels arrived at the doorstep there was hearsay, words of warning and inevitable hype enveloping his entrance.  

His was immediately likened to that of Lawrence Ekperigin, the former Panas and LeMoyne standout.

The high-rising Ekperigin, who had a cup of coffee with the Denver Nuggets summer league team in 2010, currently plays professionally in Great Britain.

 As an ultra-raw 6-foot-4 freshman, Daniels was a unique work-in-progress. He had a knack for scoring, yet a pattern of getting too out of control at times.

Nobody questioned Daniels’ advanced skill-set. He possessed big, soft hands and a feathery jumper.

Daniels’ leash with Panas coach Shawn Sullivan, however, could be measured only in midget rulers.

He talked trash at a maximum level. He developed a habit of laughing at defenders while attempting to shred them off the dribble. His game was more Rucker Park than it was polished, a bit more West Fourth St. than Westchester County Center.

“It was a crazy experience that first year at Panas,” said Daniels, now a freshman forward at Rhode Island College.

“I was the youngest kid on the team and I looked up to the older guys, from the start. A few of them took me under their wing. They didn’t take it easy on me, so I had to learn how to battle from early on."

Pedro Reynoso, a shifty high-scoring guard and Chuck Grant, both seniors at the time, were instrumental in Daniels’ acclimation process.

Keeping him out of foul trouble and imploring him to stay engaged through four quarters was pivotal.

Both players constantly helped groom Daniels. By the end of the 2009-10 campaign, Daniels discovered a sheer nose for the net.

Instead of over-dribbling and drifting away from the paint, he became more adept at finishing.

As a sophomore, Daniels transferred to Briarcliff—closer to his Elmsford home. By the time he cracked Matt Evangelista’s starting lineup, Daniels had undergone a seismic shift.

He ditched the finesse for augmented physicality, becoming more aggressive in the post.

He was averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds midway through the season. The post-game had evolved, as well as a shallow sling shot jumper.

Daniels also admits, with a toothy smile, he toned down the trash talk.

Basketball was the feature sport at Briarcliff High at the time, with a spirited fan base and proficient veterans headlining both the girls and the boys programs.

Then-coach Evangelista had planted the seeds to help the basketball culture grow, implementing a 12-month program.

Spindly big men who were rough around the edges cultivated a post presence and packed on muscle. Guards who were a tad too wild became more polished.

 Evangelista, a veritable basketball junkie (scouting and attending Section I games as if he had season tickets), embraced another advantage in Daniels. At the same time, Daniels’ playful, fun-loving attitude accelerated the gelling process.

“I changed my attitude around,” said Daniels, who supplemented versatile 6-foot-5 forward/center Tim Blair in the post while becoming a beneficiary of then-senior point guard Thomas Wen.

“I think my last two years were really when I got better. Mostly, it was knowing how to change everything around and putting in work with my coaches. Being more committed definitely helped. The change in work ethic was the difference.”

Daniels shed his feast or famine tendencies during his junior season. During the summer of 2012, Daniels evolved into the focal point for Hudson Valley in the BCANY tournament.

Daniels averaged 16.6 points and 7.0 boards en route to bagging tournament MVP honors. Under Croton coach Bill Thom and a supporting cast of the Section’s top players, Daniels’ game blossomed.

 It was against Thom and Croton that Daniels eclipsed the 1,000 point milestone, scoring 23 points and providing the go-ahead bucket with a traditional 3-point play in the waning moments.

The performance set the tone for his senior year.

With a renewed focus on his suddenly multi-layered scoring, Daniels evolved into one of the Section’s top-flight forwards. The potential, first witnessed while he was a wiry freshman, proved prophetic.

Daniels scored a career-high 32 points, helping lift the Bears to a dramatic, 66-59 grind out win over Ossining.

He dropped 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting and snatched nine boards during a dramatic win against cross-town rival Pleasantville. He added to his all-around game.

Now a freshman at Rhode Island College, Daniels is again adjusting to a new role.

 Despite being undersized at 6-foot-4, Daniels is tasked with playing an integral role as a four-man and center for head coach Bob Walsh.

“Coach is basically telling me ‘boards, boards, boards,’ he is saying I have to be a better rebounder,” Daniels explained.

“I think I’ve adjusted (to college) pretty well so far. The practices are a lot harder. On this team, I see myself playing a good amount and playing a big role. I’ve been working on my mid-range game and on being a better defender.”

Walsh’s system is predicated on a breakneck style. Daniels said Walsh places major emphasis on an up-tempo attack.

Since arriving on campus, Daniels has worked on getting stronger. He’s ballooned to 250 pounds. He said the augmented strength is paramount to hitting the glass harder.

Walsh and Pawling native Mike Romano have tapped into the local Westchester market, reeling in Daniels as well as Mount Vernon’s Jon Gause and Valhalla’s Terrence Tribble. Daniels grew up playing against Gause on the CYO level.

“I needed a place with a coach that was going to push me,” said Daniels of his decision to attend RIC.

 “My relationship with (Mike Romano) is what brought me in, I have trust in him. There is really a hell of a coaching staff out here. They help make a championship environment that you really want to be a part of.”

The Anchormen went 26-4 in 2012-13, capturing the Little East Conference Tournament Championship and subsequently earning a berth in the Division-III NCAA championship.

They return a pair of scoring leaders in local product Nyheem Sanders (11.4 PPG) and Chris Burton (10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 steals), a 6-foot-6 forward out of New Rochelle.

Daniels scored eight points and pulled down five boards during the Anchormen’s 80-71 loss to John De Brebeuf in Canada. Daniels had 10 points during a 76-58 win over Alma Academy, wrapping up the team’s Canada trip two weeks ago.

 While Rhode Island went 2-1 during the three-day tournament, they were reminded the road ahead won’t get much easier.

Daniels and The Anchorman face Division-I Providence College in exhibition play on Nov.2

“Going to be a great environment,” Daniels said.