“He’s coming out,” one veteran NBA scout, who has no inside knowledge of Daniels’ decision-making process, told SNY.tv. “He’s playing the best he’s ever played, he might as well go for it.”
“He just scares me because I don’t know what you’re getting,” a second veteran scout said. “If Connecticut wins the NCAA championship and he plays great two nights in a row, he’ll be at another level. Right now, he’s a giant question mark.”
DraftExpress.com has Daniels projected as the No. 29 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft –but he’s taken his game to a new level in the NCAA Tournament as UConn has moved to a Final Four showdown with Florida here on Saturday night.
He’s averaging 17 points and 6.8 rebounds in four tournament games, including a 27-point, 10-rebound outing against Iowa State in the Sweet 16.
A 6-foot-8 junior forward from Los Angeles, Daniels has long been considered a potential NBA talent, but he’s been tagged as “soft” from the day he stepped onto campus at UConn, when he chose the Huskies over Kansas and Texas.
“If you saw him all year prior to the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament, you’d have said the guy should be playing in the WNBA, right?,” the first scout said.
“He didn’t get anything done, shied away from contact, couldn’t finish, wanted to just live out on the perimter, wasn’t really knocking down shots, didn’t go hard at anybody, just physically not ready.”
Said the second scout: “To me, he has to be tougher, more consistent. He’s very talented. Kids like him are very difficult to assess because their production level in the game varies so much. He has very good physical tools, length, the ability to run and jump, but he’s not strong enough. He has the body that can turn into an NBA body.”
He added: “Inconsistency has been this theme. He’s very talented.”
A light has gone on for Daniels during this March Madness run, even if he can’t quite explain why.
“Just keep playing basketball,” Daniels said. “Sometimes people go through slumps, and I’m playing great basketball at the right time of the year. Just playing hard, just most importantly our whole team is out there having fun and we’re sharing the game and that’s the main thing we’re going right now, is just keep having fun.”
Daniels’ play of late has impressed Florida coach Billy Donovan, who said he is much different from the player who went for 14 and 7 in UConn’s 65-64 win Dec. 2.
“We recruited DeAndre some coming out of high school,” Donovan said. “I was always impressed with his length, his offensive ability. It looked like earlier on…he just struggled to find his way. I think he’s probably come to grips with who he is as a player and how he needs to play and how [UConn coach] Kevin [Ollie] wants him to play to impact his team.
“He’s really become extremely versatile. He posts up, he shoots threes, he’s putting it on the floor, he can start the break, he passes, he rebounds, he’s playing really hard for their team. I think watching Uonn now and getting prepared for them in December, there’s no question he’s really continued to progress and grow.”
Ollie said it’s important for Daniels to rebound the ball, which triggers his offense.
“When he averages over eight rebounds, he averages 19 points,” Ollie said. “So we want him to get rebounds. We want him to be active. Then his talent just takes over. He’s 6-9 and can shoot the three. I can put him on the post. I can manipulate the defense with him. But if he don’t play with that activity, it kind of limits him a little bit.
“I think he’s starting to get that mindset and that moxie that I am the best player on the court every time I step out there.”
As for his future plans, Daniels said he will wait until after the season to decide about the NBA.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” he said. “I’m worried about the Final Four and winning a national championship.”
Of course, if he lights it up here on Saturday and Monday, his future could change dramatically.