Block party: McDaniels leads ACC in blocks, presents defensive obstacle for Syracuse on Sunday

first_img Published on February 7, 2014 at 12:41 am Contact Sam: [email protected] | @SamBlum3 Facebook Twitter Google+ Montay Brandon thought he had an easy two points. With Florida State trailing Clemson by seven with just under 90 seconds to play, he intercepted a pass from a trapped K.J. McDaniels and had an open lane to the basket.It would have cut the lead to five and given the Seminoles the momentum.But McDaniels had other ideas.He raced over from the sideline where he’d thrown his errant pass, extended his entire body and grabbed Brandon’s shot out of the air with both hands.“He swallowed it,” the television announcer bellowed.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textClemson held on for the 53-49 win.“It felt like it kind of took the wind out of the place,” McDaniels said. “It took the fans’ energy from them after that. They were cheering loud when they stole the ball, but as soon as that happened they were quiet.”It was the first time the junior had completed such a block while at Clemson. But swatting shots is nothing new for the 6-foot-6 combo forward.In his first two seasons with the Tigers, he rejected 78 shots, ranking No. 1 in school history for a player his height or shorter. This season he’s averaging 2.62 per game — tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference — and out of the top 50 shot blockers in the nation, he’s committed the fewest amount of fouls.He’ll get a chance to show off his defensive ability when Clemson travels to play No. 1 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Sunday at 6 p.m.“It’s a natural feeling for me,” McDaniels said. “I’ve always been the athletic-type guy. I’ve always been that way and I’ve always had that ability to jump.“It’s just putting it all together. Just doing all the things and being more versatile.”McDaniels said he modeled his game after Dwayne Wade’s, because, despite his size, he’s always going up at the backboard and surprising defenders with his ability. Like Wade, McDaniels has fantastic instincts. He often starts racing to the basket to block a shot before the player on offense even starts his shooting motion.“That’s a natural gift from God,” said Tigers assistant coach Earl Grant, who recruited him to play at Clemson. “A lot of the stuff that K.J. has, it’s natural. You can’t teach it. It’s in his genes.”What Grant saw when he first saw McDaniels play at Central Park Christian (Ala.) School was an oversized power forward. He didn’t have as many refined skills, but his instincts for blocking shots and playing defense were well ahead of the curve.Every day before practice, Central Park Christian head coach Donovan Broadnax would run a tip drill. Players would jump then throw the ball off the backboard then jump up and do it again. Ten times with each hand, then 10 more with both hands. They couldn’t stop and couldn’t bobble the ball.At the end of the year, Broadnax would make it a competition to see who could last the longest. McDaniels would sometimes do it more than 100 times without messing up, well ahead of his teammates.“He has natural ball instincts,” Broadnax said. “If you don’t screen him out he’s going to put it back. And he’s going to put it back on your head, if you don’t put a body on him. I think that helps with his shot blocking.”Broadnax said it’s cool to turn on the television and see McDaniels on SportsCenter, but also said he fears that McDaniels’ success and elevating stock might affect his personality.“Once you start getting on ESPN Top 10 pretty regularly, it’s hard to stay humble,” Broadnax said. “You’re in the same Top 10 as like LeBron (James) and Blake Griffin. That’s big time, especially coming from Birmingham, Ala.”But McDaniels has stayed modest.His mother called Broadnax earlier this week to talk about how proud she is of the person McDaniels has become — even though there is more attention and more cameras on him than ever before.Before, he couldn’t create his own shots. Now he can dribble and shoot, which makes him much more dangerous.“We’d always say, ‘If you ever jump with this shot, the way you jump, you could be looking down at the rim shooting it in,’” Broadnax said.With the Orange struggling to score when the other team prevents it from driving to the basket, McDaniels figures to be a key factor in Clemson’s game plan. With him clogging the middle, SU may struggle to score, which could position Clemson to knock off the undefeated Orange.He doesn’t really have an explanation for why he’s become so versatile a player. Some of it is hard work. Some of it is just natural ability.Whatever the cause, the result is a spectacle and the Orange will see it firsthand on Sunday evening.Said McDaniels: “I have heart. Just being physical. It’s just a physics-type thing.” Commentslast_img read more