Sunday, April 6, 2014

Daniels Follows Forward Footprints At Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac has a pattern of breeding big men. Don't argue with history.

When the Bobcats were in the guard-geared Northeast Conference, they featured walking double-doubles such as 6-foot-5 combo Forward/Center Victor Akinyanju and 6-foot-7 Center Justin Rutty.

 Akinyanju was a gym rat and superior finisher, applying an adept kit of post moves against taller and wider bigs. The undersized forward is one of few players in program history to erupt for a 20-point and 20-rebound game, as he did in 2007.

Rutty, currently playing professionally in France, cemented his legacy with NEC Player of the Year honors.

A southpaw out of Newburgh, N.Y., where he was a Division-I prospect in both football and basketball, Rutty arrived on campus raw, rugged, and rough around the edges offensively.

His presence in the post, where he manipulated and blocked shots and battled for supremacy on the backboards, was put to immediate use his freshman year. In the ensuing three years, Rutty's scoring acumen mushroomed.

 He worked at rectifying dismal free throw shooting and increased his scoring in the key, becoming the focal point.  Rutty reaped the results of an inside-outside game, becoming a steady beneficiary of versatile guards such as James Johnson and James Feldeine. A blend of mental and physical toughness, ingrained in Rutty by lockup specialist Jeremy Baker and the legendary DeMario Anderson, allowed him to grow and flourish in Tom Moore's system.

And so the success of the Bobcat-bred bigs helped sell Meriden, Conn. native Chase Daniels.

 Daniels, he of the oil-smooth jump hook and refined back to the basket game, was entertaining steady interest from a bevy of programs.

UMass, Duquesne, Virginia Commonwealth, Towson, Fairfield, Drexel, Tulane, Hofstra, and Norfolk State were also courting the 6-foot-8 Daniels.

A 15-minute trip to the sprawling Hamden, Conn. campus, however, changed everything.

Daniels feasted his eyes on a 3,500-seat TD Bank North Sports Center, a jumbo sports complex which appears better suited for a Big East or an ACC caliber program.

"I loved the gym," said Daniels, who played for the Connecticut Select and grew up simulating the moves of Kevin Garnett, LeMarcus Aldridge, and former UCONN bruiser Jeff Adrien.

"I played there my junior and senior years in high school in the conference championship. I like Quinnipiac's style of play because they feed the bigs a lot. I think my biggest attribute as a player is that I play hard at all times."

Daniels' game is predicated on sustained focus and hard-fought interior buckets. Choosing Quinnipiac, was easier than scoring on the slew of has-beens and beer-bellied also rans who tend to flood Treadwell Park.

Influencing Daniels' decision was assistant coach Scottie Burrell, a homegrown Hamden product and an all-purpose reminder of the state's past glory.

Burrell, who won an NBA championship with the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen-Dennis Rodman-Ron Harper quartet of the late 1990s, is synonymous with "The Shot," a play forever embedded in the Huskies' annals.

 It was Burrell, a quarterback at Hamden High and a MLB draft pick, who heaved a 90-foot inbounds bomb to Tate George. George drilled a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper to knock off Clemson in the NCAA tournament.

Daniels' game blossomed during the summer of 2012. He developed a dependable short-range jumper. He became more aggressive on the glass, boxing out and chasing down 50-50 balls and plucking boards as soon as they rimmed out and clanked off the back iron. Daniels expanded to the wing, during an extended AAU road swing featuring stops in Florida and Atlanta.

Daniels' averaged 12 points and 12 boards at traditional New Haven power Hillhouse, en route to a  26-1 season and a CIAC Class L State Championship.

At Putnam Science, he's added to his all-around basketball package. He's also become a more dependable setup man in the paint and leaned on a jumper he's shifted beyond the arc.

"I'm at my best when I just play hard and score the ball," Daniels explained.

 "When I get the ball in the post, I'm looking to score. That's my style. But I'll pass if I see an open teammate there. At Putnam, I've developed a 3-point shot."

Daniels' brother, Dante Watson, was a  cerebral 5-foot-11 scoring guard at Vinal Tech High in Middletown.

The third 1,000-point scorer in Tech history, Watson routinely went off on 30+ point scoring barrages and knifed through box-and-one defenses with a pack of nifty spin moves and patented left hand finishes in traffic.

When the oft-balling brothers go one-on-one, who wins?

"We haven't played in forever, but when we do, I'm gonna win that one," Daniels promised.