NEW YORK - What K.J. McDaniels experienced Tuesday night was a Hall of Fame coach, with a stingy defensive squad at his disposal, paying Clemson's star forward the ultimate hardwood respect.
BY THE NUMBERS
A big year for Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels comes to an end:
58 - dunks this year, third-most in school history
100 - blocks this year, third-most in school history
1,212 - minutes this year, second-most in school history
154 - free throws made this year, fifth-most in school history
614 - points this year, sixth-most in school history
8 - SportsCenter Top 10 plays this year, most in school history (unofficially)
"He does everything. He rebounds, assists, he gets everything for them," said SMU swingman Sterling Brown. "We just tried to shrink the floor and bring everybody to the help side so he couldn't go off."
McDaniels couldn't. Just 11 points (six below his average,) a 4-for-11 shooting night, and two dunks to bring his sensational season tally to 58 - and that's where the train reaches the station, with Clemson's 65-59 loss to SMU in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
"I felt like at times I tried to force a few things," McDaniels lamented. "I should have read the defense a lot better. A few times, I was looking for my teammates and I had confidence in them to go out there and make shots. They hit a few, and they missed a few."
SMU coach Larry Brown on Monday praised McDaniels as "a human stat sheet," and McDaniels didn't disappoint otherwise, rolling up seven rebounds, three assists and three blocks, giving him 100 swats on the year.
The significance isn't lost that McDaniels and the Tigers played this game in the most famous basketball arena in the world, the home of the Knicks, with the likes of Kenyon Martin, Shannon Brown and Tim Hardaway Jr. observing courtside.
Maybe McDaniels was satisfied with enough of a taste of New York that he's ready to travel the country, not just regionally, as an NBA player.
In a response shocking no one - when has anybody ever publicly announced their intentions to declare for the draft at the season-ending postgame podium? - the first-team all-ACC junior forward said he'll think it over.
"It was a great run. I had fun putting in time with our guys and our coaches," said McDaniels, projected as a late first-rounder. "They stayed in there and grinded with us every day and got us to this point. We love each other, we're there for each other. You win some and lose some."
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell has never dealt with counseling his players on the NBA-or-school decision. He's already submitted paperwork to NBA developmental scouts to help garner as much quality information as possible on McDaniels' draft stock.
"I'll get with K.J. and let it breathe for a day or two at least," Brownell said. "Then we'll sit down and talk about some things. I'll try to help answer questions.
"At the end of the day, it's his decision, his family's decision. He's the one who has to live with it. We just want him to hopefully be prepared that whatever decision he makes that he's successful thereafter."
McDaniels has always been an uber-athletic highlight waiting to happen. He evolved, this winter, into a model of consistency. He scored double figures in 33 of his 36 games. He had at least one block in his final 18 games.
And he waited patiently while his teammates found their scoring stroke, which ultimately pushed Clemson from nice rebuilding project to bona fide NCAA tourney candidate.
"He's given an unbelievable amount to our school and our program over the last three years," Brownell said, "and I'm really proud of the way he's handled everything this year. Not just playing on the court, but being a new leader, being a marked man, being an all-ACC guy, handling all the outside distractions and extra people trying to get a hold of him."
McDaniels and all of his 11 teammates on scholarship have at least a year of eligibility remaining. Two recruits - Gabe Devoe and Donte Grantham - have already signed for next year, so if McDaniels returned for his senior year, somebody would have to transfer or forfeit his scholarship.
Not the worst problem to have.
"We have some pieces, and whatever happens with K.J., we'll have to wait and see," Brownell said. "Certainly if he's back, it'll be a big shot in the arm. If he's not, there will be more questions . but that's good, we do have some other guys coming back."
For Brownell's part, he'll become a more well-known coach with Clemson's emergence to relevance.
"It's not an easy league (Clemson plays in), but I think he's got it going in the right direction," Larry Brown said. "I'm amazed at the quality of coaching on the college level from guys like him. The young coaches on the college level are pretty darn good."
SMU's Shawn Williams (2) defends Clemson's K.J. McDaniels (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the semifinals of the NIT Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in New York. SMU won the game 65-59. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)×
K.J. McDaniels scored double figures in 33 of his 36 games this season for Clemson.×
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