Saturday, March 17, 2001

UK gets early impact from Daniels

Freshman from Princeton HS regular contributor

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Big-time Division I college basketball must have seemed sort of easy to Erik Daniels early this season.

        Five games into his University of Kentucky career, Daniels, a smooth 6-foot-7 Princeton High School graduate, was averaging 13 points a game and had missed only three of the 23 shots he had taken.

        “I knew it was going to be hard,” said Daniels, a polite, soft-spoken 18-year-old. “I guess a lot of the teams didn't know me and were surprised that I was doing so well.”

        Daniels eventually cooled off. After scoring in double figures in three of UK's first five games, he has scored 10 or more points only four times since scoring 14 during a 94-79 win against Eastern Kentucky on Dec.5.

        But he has played in all 30 of UK's games this season and is averaging 5.5 points. He is second in shooting percentage, at 57.4, behind Marquis Estill, who leads the team at 59.8 percent.

        Daniels averages 13.2 minutes, coming off the bench with a second team that includes Marvin Stone, J.P. Blevins and Cliff Hawkins.

        “I think I had a pretty good season, individually and as a team,” Daniels said. “We started off slow. It was tough at first. But we had come together as a team, had to start playing more team ball. We finally kind of jelled and started playing like a unit.”

        Coach Tubby Smith called Daniels “the biggest surprise of the year.”

        “He's been a phenomenon,” Smith said Friday. “For awhile there he was shooting over 60 percent from the floor, and there was a stretch early in the year where everything he did was positive.”

        Daniels played a key role in one of UK's biggest victories of the season, an 85-70 road win against Georgia on Jan.31.

        The Wildcats came into the game 11-7 and had lost their first two Southeastern Conference road games. Daniels played almost the entire second half with the starters, contributing seven points and 24 minutes, which equaled his season high.

        Daniels said to continue to progress he needs to improve his entire game, particularly ball handling, scoring and rebounding.

        “I need to be more aggressive,” he said.

        Though he stands 6-7 now, Daniels was just 5-10 as a freshman at Princeton, so he played most of his high school career in the backcourt.

        “I started my senior year as a point guard,” he said. “That's helped my ball handling.”

        As a senior for Princeton — where his father, David “Dusty” Daniels, was a three-sport star in the late 1970s and early '80s — Daniels averaged 20.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, five assists and 2.7 steals as he led the Vikings to a 17-5 record and the sectional championship game.

        Stone, a 6-10 low post player, predicted Daniels will be “one of the biggest parts of the team next year.”

        “He's been a real surprise to us,” Stone said. “He's a great athlete. He loves to run up and down the court, and he's really come a long way this year.”

        Smith expects Daniels to challenge for a starting guard or forward spot next season.

        “He's got excellent hands,” Smith said. “He's got speed. He's very athletic. And his ability to pass the ball is probably his biggest asset. He's going to be a real force in our program.”

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