Jan 27, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - This wasn't how Dantiel Daniels expected his sophomore season to unfold.
After earning All-Freshman team honors a year ago and leading the Missouri Valley Conference in blocked shots, he expected to take another step toward becoming one of the top big men in the MVC. Injuries have slowed his progress.
During the first few days of practice in October, Daniels suffered a groin pull -- the second time he's had the injury since coming to Southern. Last year, he missed most of the month of December. This time it was his right side instead of his left.
"The first thing that came to my mind was -- here we go again," he said. "I remember when I first pulled it last year, it took me four or five games to get back into an offensive rhythm."
Daniels missed just the regular-season opener at New Orleans, returning to play the home opener against Benedictine-Springfield, a game in which he scored 14 points. The injury was not completely healed until the week before Christmas. On Dec. 17, Daniels scored 20 points against New Orleans. He followed that outing with a career-high 23 points versus UC-Davis.
It seemed Daniels was finding his stride just in time for the conference season, when he sprained his ankle in the MVC opener at Missouri State. It was a severe sprain that caused him to miss the next three games. Although Daniels has played in Southern's last four outings, and is coming off a team-high 11-point effort at Northern Iowa, he is still not at full strength.
"I'm 75 or 80 percent," he acknowledged. "I'm not completely comfortable yet."
The evidence that he's not fully healthy can be seen in his statistics. Daniels averaged 1.5 blocked shots per game last year and is only averaging 0.9 this season. His rebounds have dropped from 4.9 to 3.1 per game.
Dantiel Daniels leads the league in field goal percentage.
There are some aspects of his game that have improved, in spite of the injuries. His field goal percentage has risen from .567 a year ago to a league-best .667 as a sophomore. He's also upped his scoring output from 8.3 to 10.0 points per game.
One thing is clear -- SIU needs Daniels in the lineup. In the last two seasons, he has missed part or all of 10 games with injuries, and SIU is 2-8 in those contests, with its only wins coming at Chicago State and New Orleans.
Daniels has looked for a silver lining in the adversity he has faced and may have found it.
"It has made me mentally tougher," he said. "It's normal for any athlete after an injury to be worried that you're going to hurt it again. I've learned to get past that, to be mentally strong, play through it and forget it ever happened. It's easier said than done, but that's what I'm trying to do."
The team's lack of size and depth in the front court is well-documented. Gone from last year's squad are forwards Mamadou Seck, Treg Setty, Harry Whitt and Antonio Bryer. Replacements have yet to arrive. When Daniels plays, he is the lone big man on the floor for SIU, and he looks forward to the day when he has a companion to help him battle inside.
"Hopefully, that's what can happen here soon or whenever Coach (Hinson) wants it to happen," he said. "That would open things up for me where instead of getting double-teamed, I can hopefully get some easy buckets."
Although still a year away from playing, redshirt freshman Bola Olaniyan may be an interior force for SIU down road.
"He's a monster," said Daniels, who battles Olaniyan in practice each day. "For me to say that is saying a lot. He's probably the best rebounder I've ever seen."
Until reinforcements arrive, Daniels will just keep battling.
"The way our offense is set up, we have to produce, we have to score when they pass it to us, we have to get rebounds," he said. "It's a lot of pressure, but that's where our program is right now, and we have to play the hand that was dealt to us."