After a breakout junior season, Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels has declared for the NBA draft.
First reported by Yahoo Sports, the first-team All-ACC selection and reigning conference defensive player of the year took the decision to the wire — the deadline for entry is this Sunday.
The turn of events isn’t all too surprising for the Alabama native after his publicizing a meeting with agency Rival Sports Group on Twitter last week.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity these past three seasons to grow as a player and person at Clemson,” McDaniels said in a Clemson release Tuesday. “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.”
Rocketing up draft boards, McDaniels made marked improvements 2013-to-2014 in scoring (17.1 PPG; +6.2 from ‘13), free throw shooting (84.2%; +15.8) and blocks (2.8; +0.7). He led the ACC in blocks each of the last two seasons.
McDaniels had scored 15 points or more just eight times before this season, which he matched in the first 13 games of his junior campaign. The athletic wing had six games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds — five of double-digit points and rebounds with at least four blocks. His 614 points were good enough for the sixth-most in a single season at Clemson.
Tigers head coach Brad Brownell says McDaniels’ wiry 6-6 frame can be deceiving, with the success a product of a strong work ethic.
“I don’t think K.J. gets enough credit for the tough plays that he makes,” Brownell said during Clemson’s NIT run. “Some of those rebounds he goes and gets and second-effort plays — he makes some of them look easy because he’s so athletic. There’s a toughness about that that he’s not a big burly guy that he doesn’t get enough credit for toughness.
“Everybody wants to talk about his athleticism. He’s improved his toughness a great deal over the last two years and that’s allowed him to finish plays in traffic and get rebounds.”
He is projected as a late first-round pick by several outlets — as high as No. 20 via DraftExpress.com. The NBA draft will be held on June 26 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
McDaniels can become only the 16th Tiger to play at the NBA level. Trevor Booker was the last Clemson basketball alum drafted, in 2010, at No. 23 overall to the Washington Wizards. The highest-drafted Clemson player was Sharone Wright, pick No. 6, to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1994.
The exit leaves Clemson with one scholarship open for 2014-15, where the Tigers are reportedly pursuing at least one transfer, but McDaniels’ impact is much more than that.
He was the only player in the NCAA to lead his team in points, rebounds, blocks, steals and three-point field goals. He was only the second ACC player ever to accomplish that over a season (Josh Howard, Wake Forest, 2002-03).
Brownell says Clemson’s 10-win surge only helped raise his profile.
“People finally at some point realized the guy’s pretty good,” he 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.”
After a season without a senior class, guards Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison will serve in that capacity in 2014-15 for Clemson. Hall is the Tigers’ top returner in points (9.7), assists (4) and free throw shooting (. 842). Harrison scored in double-figures in nine of the Tigers’ final 12 games.
Four-star forward signee Donte Grantham (6-8 200) is a favorite to take a share of McDaniels’ playing time next season.