CLEMSON - It was just a matter of time before K.J. McDaniels put it all together.
He came out of Central Park Christian School in Birmingham, Ala., with the Superman-like qualities: leaping buildings in a single bound, and the like.
He came to a school fresh off another NCAA tournament berth but readying to rebuild under a new coach's direction.
He came to the 2013-14 college season a different kind of K.J., harnessing his natural abilities as he rubbed high-tops with the nation's elite prospects at summer camps captained by NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
He came to Clemson as an athlete, and will leave as a basketball player (yes, those two are mutually exclusive).
The question is when. Kevin McDaniels Jr. might leave next week. He might leave in a year and a week.
The choice is ultimately up to McDaniels, the ACC defensive player of the year and first-team all-conference forward burdened for a few months now by the senior-year-or-NBA paradox that has become imminent.
"I felt like I could have had this season my freshman year. But I had to wait for my turn, and my turn came," McDaniels said. "I think I've capitalized on that pretty well."
Asked the NBA question for the final time before resurgent Clemson (20-12) opens its NIT participation against Georgia State (25-8) on Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, the laid-back and relaxed McDaniels stirred uncomfortably in his seat Monday, plagued by anxiety more than enthusiasm, out of character.
"I really want . I wish we had more time with each other," McDaniels said. "I enjoy being with my guys now. I mean, just . we'll see how it goes."
The best athlete
A few weeks ago, Brad Brownell was amused by the NBA question. Mainly because he's never coached an NBA prospect before.
"Aren't a whole lot of NBA guys at Wilmington and Wright State," said Brownell, referring to his former employers. "There aren't thousands of them at Clemson either."
Brownell mulled, for a moment, the recruitment of one of five commits in his first class at Clemson in the spring of 2011. McDaniels was a 3-star prospect, a 6-6, 195-pounder holding no other ACC offers.
"Oh, I saw NBA athleticism," Brownell said. "I remember saying when we signed him that people thought Bryan Narcisse was a really good athlete - and he is - but K.J. McDaniels is better. This guy will be the best athlete we might see as long as I coach at Clemson."
Still, great athletes don't always make great players. That's where McDaniels built upon a solid sophomore campaign (10.9 points, 5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) and paid attention at James' and Durant's skills academies last summer, knowing he'd be "the man" in Clemson his junior year.
"It was just kind of about proving people wrong," McDaniels said. "Because coming from Alabama, I've been talked down a lot. Since I grew up there, a lot of people say you can't. I felt like you can do whatever you want."
McDaniels is on track to be this year's only Division I player to lead his team in five major categories: entering Tuesday, he averages 17 points, 7 rebounds, 1.2 3-pointers, 2.7 blocks and 1.2 steals.
All while helping Clemson improve its win total by at least seven, plus any NIT victories.
"He's not a 17-point scorer on a team that's won two games," Brownell said. "He's affecting winning in more ways than just those points. That's where K.J.'s learning to take his game to another level, and I'm really proud of him for that."
'He can become better'
The price of coaches, teammates and fans enjoying K.J. McDaniels become the Tigers' first household name in recent years: the momentum for McDaniels to test NBA draft waters.
"People come at him all the time, asking is he gonna stay another year and things like that," said guard Rod Hall, who arrived at Clemson the same time as McDaniels three years ago. "He really doesn't tell them nothing. He's just trying to think about what we've got in front of us instead of the future."
ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford ranks McDaniels No. 20 on his overall big board, but there's scant momentum published elsewhere on McDaniels' stock.
The only Tigers in recent memory to declare early for the pros are center Sharone Wright (sixth overall in 1994) and guard Will Solomon (33rd overall in 2001.)
"I think he can become a better player, absolutely," Brownell said. "I think his assists can be better, his rebounding . there's a myriad of things he can still improve.
"At the end of the day, I want K.J. to be happy. I want him to do what's best for him and his family," Brownell continued. "We're both trying to make sure he stays focused on what he's doing. The better he plays here, and the better our team does, that only helps him in the long run."
If McDaniels stays in school, the Tigers could theoretically return their entire roster next season with no seniors departing. An entrancing thought, but not one factoring too highly for McDaniels.
"It really doesn't matter that much to me. I just feel like I have more to improve on, I can definitely get better as the summer goes on," he said. "But I feel like if I'm here or not, the team will be good, even if I'm not here. I have a lot of confidence in the guys I play with, and they're going to do whatever they can to get better and try to repeat (this success)."
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