Flight 32 cleared for takeoff
by ELAINE DAY / SPORTS EDITOR
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on April 25, 2014 | PRINT

The 2014 NBA draft pool, filled with stars like Duke’s Jabari Parker, and Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, gained a Tiger this week, as K.J. McDaniels announced on Tuesday that he has decided to forgo his senior season with Clemson and enter the NBA draft. “It’s a great day for Clemson basketball,” Head Coach Brad Brownell said. Any time you help one of your players realize a dream. It’s special. That’s what we’re in the business of doing. “Preparing young men for the future. I couldn’t be more proud of how K.J. has conducted himself the last three years. He’s been a model player.”

“I’m thankful for the opportunity these past three seasons to grow as a player and person at Clemson,” McDaniels said. “None of this would have been possible without the guidance and support of my coaches, teammates and family. This was not an easy decision, but I am excited to take the next step toward fulfilling my lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

McDaniels’ draft stock skyrocketed during the 2013-2014 season after he was the only player in the country to lead his team in points (614), rebounds (255), blocks (100), steals (41) and three-pointers (42). He greatly improved his numbers from the 2012-2013 season, increasing his average point total per game by 6.2 and his free throw shooting percentage by 15.8 percent, all while making first-team All-ACC and earning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He especially made his way to the national spotlight with his famous dunks, which cracked ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 multiple times.

“It took a lot of thinking,” McDaniels said in a joint press conference with Brownell Wednesday. “My teammates are amazing. They were great to me. They understand what I’ve gone through…It was a difficult decision just [because of] my teammates and the Clemson family and how they showed they appreciated me. I love Clemson for that.”

McDaniels said that he spoke at length with Brownell and former Tiger Trevor Booker, who currently plays for the Washington Wizards, before making his decision. Brownell praised McDaniels for handling the whole process well, as the potential for going professional often affects game play. “If they don’t handle it right, it becomes a distraction for your team,” Brownell said. “K.J. did a good a job as you can do at deflecting things and staying focused on our team. Always putting our team first in what we’re trying to accomplish this season. “He made several statements over the course of the year every time he was asked (saying) he was not thinking about it. And to be honest with you, with K.J., he wasn’t thinking about it. His mind wasn’t on a draft position. His mind was on what we have to do to win. That’s very mature. I don’t think there are a lot of guys who are going to be that way. That’s hard.”

McDaniels is projected to be drafted in the late first round by multiple sources, making him the first Clemson player to be drafted since Booker in 2010 and the 16th in school history. “People finally at some point realized the guy’s pretty good,” Brownell said. “I think a big part of it is we were winning. He wasn’t just a good player or the best player on a team that’s not very good. He was the best player on one of the best teams in the league.”

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