Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chaise Daniels developing into next great Quinnipiac forward

If freshman season is any indication, Chaise Daniels could be latest in a long of line of dominant Quinnipiac big men. (Photo courtesy of Quinnipiac University)

Across two different conferences, Quinnipiac has come to be known for two things: A rebounding prowess unlike any other in the nation, and an assembly line-esque turnout of forwards who have not only been integral parts of the Bobcats' efforts, but imposed their will on both the offensive and defensive ends, equal parts productive and physical.

When Justin Rutty graduated in 2011, Ike Azotam was groomed to replace the one-time leading rebounder in Northeast Conference history, doing an admirable job along the way. One year behind Azotam was Ousmane Drame, the reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year who averaged a double-double per game in his senior season. The next generation of burgeoning big man in Hamden is a six-foot, eight-inch specimen who, even if his statistics as a freshman may not necessarily have been gaudy, looks well on his way to being the same "something special" kind of player in the same vein as the three aforementioned names before him.

A homegrown talent of sorts out of the prestigious program at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Chaise Daniels did not see much time in his rookie season, only averaging just over fourteen minutes per game playing behind Drame and Justin Harris in the Quinnipiac rotation. Once on the floor, though, Daniels made his minutes count, averaging three points and three rebounds per game, numbers that equate to nearly nine points and over seven rebounds per contest when averaged per 40 minutes, which translates to a more than serviceable stat line that has Tom Moore confident that his developing talent from nearby Meriden, Connecticut will be ready to take the next step as he enters his sophomore campaign.

"His upside is through the roof," Moore said of Daniels, whose two double-figure scoring efforts this past season came on his home floor at the TD Bank Sports Center, first against eventual MAAC champion Manhattan before replicating the feat against regular season conference winner Iona. "You don't see big kids his size that move as well as he does, and play as hard on a day-to-day basis as he does."

What sets Daniels apart is not the double-doubles that the Bobcat big men before him became synonymous with, at least not yet. Rather, what makes this rising star such a unique commodity is the determination with which he approaches his craft, a quality that is to be appreciated even more in a culture that has favored instant gratification in the prep and AAU circuits, where a player often transfers or finds a change of scenery if he is overlooked as opposed to the old-school method of working harder to improve.

"The thing that excites me about him isn't the two days a week where we play," Moore gushed, "it's the four days a week where we practice. He comes with an intensity every single day that he comes out of the locker room. That's going to serve him well as a young big guy, and I'm shocked at how much progress he's made in such a short amount of time. We started working with him last July, and it's amazing how far he's come."

Moore is no stranger to game-changing forwards, working with them long before his arrival at Quinnipiac, having helped develop the likes of Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay, Richard Hamilton, and Emeka Okafor while serving as an assistant to Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun at the University of Connecticut. But while the Bobcats' head coach, going into his ninth season at the helm, says that Ousmane Drame has made the most progress between his freshman and sophomore seasons since replacing Joe DeSantis in 2007, he insists that there will be a changing of the guard in that department in the very near future.

"I think Chaise will pass the improvement, the amount of improvement, that Ousmane made between (his) freshman and sophomore year," said Moore. "He has a skill that I see less and less college kids having now, and that skill is that relentless push every time he works out. Chaise Daniels has a motor that he turns on every time he goes on the court, whether it's a practice, an individual (workout) in the summer, or weightlifting session, or a game, and that's just pulling him along at a rate that's really, really impressive."

Only time will tell exactly how much of a jump Daniels will make going into his second season, but going into a year where his coach insists there are more unknown factors surrounding his team than at any other point in his tenure, he is firm in his belief that the one tangible quality Daniels possesses before the ball is tipped for the first time in November will go a long way in easing the potential feeling-out process between each member of the team.

"The experience is huge," Moore affirmed toward his soon-to-be sophomore. "He's been in every gym, he knows different teams' playing styles, he knows the physicality of the league now, and he embraces it. He's excited about it, and I think his potential is limitless."

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