CLEMSON — K.J. McDaniels could always jump. He has authored highlight-reel dunks and blocks since arriving at Clemson last season. The 6-7 sophomore forward can likely leap over a compact car and he has had several impressive above-the-rim moments already this season, including three blocks against No. 17 Gonzaga on Thanksgiving in Orlando, Fla.
But it is McDaniels’ shooting and ball-handling skills that have encouraged the Clemson coaching staff. The Tigers (4-1) might have a star emerging on their roster as they return home to face Purdue (2-3) tonight in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
“He still has a ways to go with the skill stuff, but you see flashes of great play from him,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
His jump shot has improved after taking 1,000 shots a day during the summer.
He made 4 of 4 from 3-point range in a win against UTEP on Friday and is shooting 50 percent on 3-point attempts this season.
Brownell knows McDaniels is an explosive leaper, but wants him to be more “explosive with the ball.” McDaniels matched a career-best with eight free throw attempts against Furman earlier this month, speaking to his improved ability to dribble and drive.
McDaniels said his ball- handling improved after attending basketball camp this summer, where he worked with NBA players like Mike James and JaVale McGee.
“I’m just being more aggressive, just a lot of dribbling this offseason,” McDaniels said. “It’s just being aggressive, attacking, finding the open spots and trying to get to them and score.”
His numbers are up so far. He’s averaging 10.4 points compared to 3.9 a season ago, his field-goal percentage has increased to 51 percent from 45 percent, and his free throw percentage has improved to 75 percent from 58 percent last season.
Perhaps most significant is McDaniels’ minutes have increased thanks to his better understanding and execution of Brownell’s defense.
“I think he’s more confident,” Brownell said. “Some of that is just being physically stronger and not wearing down as much.”
As a sophomore, McDaniels knew he would have to take on a greater role and he’s delivering.
“I’ve always had that aggression in me,” McDaniels said. “I have to step up with four seniors (departed).”
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