Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
After Calhoun Told Daniels To be a ‘Son of a Bitch,’ He Leads UConn into NCAA Championship Game, Boosts NBA Draft Stock
ARLINGTON, Texas — In the moments after playing the biggest game of his career on the grandest stage, DeAndre Daniels stood face-to-face with Jim Calhoun in a corner of the UConn locker room in the AT&T Center.
Daniels had just walked into the victorious locker room after putting up a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead the No. 7 Huskies into their second NCAA championship game in four years via a 63-53 victory over No. 1 overall seed Florida. The upset snapped a 30-game winning streak by the Gators and means UConn is responsible for two of Florida’s three losses this season.
“He was a top 20 player in high school. One of the nicest kids I’ve ever met in my life. I told him he should be more like his coach, ex-coach,” Calhoun told SNY.tv exclusively with a wry smile, referring to himself. “Be a son of a bitch on the court, and he’s being that way.”
Calhoun said he especially liked when Daniels let loose a salute after driving the lane and throwing down a monstrous dunk in the second half.
“I liked when he did [the salute] when he dunked,” Calhoun said. “I don’t like it from Boat [Ryan Boatright], I love it from him because he needs that.”
Trailing 16-4 in the first half, it was Daniels who got UConn going and salvaged their season by draining one 3-pointer to make it 16-7 and another a few minutes later to cut the lead to 16-15.
Remarkably, Daniels fueled a 21-6 run to close the first half by notching 10 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block to give UConn a 25-22 halftime lead.
Florida never led in the second half and three other Huskies finished in double figures — Boatright (13 points), Shabazz Napier (12) and Niels Giffey (11) — on a night when Napier wasn’t dominant. UConn closed the game on a 59-37 run after the early deficit, making head coach Kevin Ollie 5-0 in his first NCAA Tournament.
Calhoun, who recruited Daniels before he stepped down as coach, has always felt he was too nice a kid and he needed to crash through that barrier. He first pulled Daniels aside on Friday afternoon and told the 6-foot-8 junior that he was the forgotten man.
“He was like, ‘Man, nobody’s talking about you,'” Daniels said on air after the win. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Everybody’s going to be talking about me after Saturday. I told him I’m going to go out there and play my hardest and give it my all. Everybody’s always talking about their two guards penetrating and I stepped up huge tonight. Everybody was out there playing hard.”
Moments later, Daniels added in the locker room, “[Calhoun] was just basically saying, ‘I’m a nice kid’ and he wanted me to get it going and I promised him I will.”
That has been the knock on Daniels all along, as I wrote in this earlier column.
He has been considered “soft,” with one NBA scout saying he played like a “WNBA player” before this year’s postseason.
Now those same scouts say Daniels has elevated himself from a 2015 Draft pick to somewhere late in this year’s first round — with one game left to play.
“It elevates his draft stock,” another scout told SNY.tv. “He is taking a big step on the biggest stage.”
And that bodes well for UConn, which is 8-0 this season when Daniels scores 18 points or more.
Calhoun said he’s seen this type of thing before.
“We’ve had kids like Hilton Armstrong wasn’t a good player and then he became the [12th] guy taken in the draft his senior year and the defensive player of the year,” Calhoun said. “Talent makes a big difference.”
And DeAndre Daniels has unleashed his just at the right time.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.