CLEMSON - K.J. McDaniels was an athlete four years ago. Now he's a basketball player.
It took one of those acclaimed work ethics a select few humans possess, and the right amount of patience and development from his coaches, for McDaniels to morph from merely high flyer to all-everything on the basketball court.
If Brad Brownell were told three years ago that he'd one day be seated next to one of his players becoming Clemson's third Tiger ever to forego eligibility to enter the NBA draft, he wouldn't necessarily have guessed the lanky kid from Birmingham who could jump out of the gym but wasn't as fundamental with his shooting and dribbling.
"I typically like guys that have a little more skill level than K.J. had coming out of high school," Brownell said at Wednesday's press conference alongside McDaniels declaring for the draft, recalling a conversation with assistant Earl Grant.
"So Coach Grant at one point was like, 'I don't know if Coach will like K.J. - he's not as skilled. You like a more skilled guy.'"
Still, when Brownell and his wife went to watch McDaniels play at Central Park Christian, he couldn't resist.
"I told people when we signed him that he's as athletic a player as we may sign here in 15 years," Brownell said. "You just won't find a guy with that kind of bounce, that kind of timing. It's a special gift."
The Clemson coaches tasked themselves to bring McDaniels along; additionally, offseason academies run by LeBron James and Kevin Durant helped the bouncer become a skilled basketball player.
Ultimately, it was up to McDaniels himself to reach his ceiling.
"What's equally as special is the way K.J.'s worked the last three years to turn other weaknesses into strengths and put himself in this position," McDaniels said. "I knew he had NBA athleticism right away and I had confidence in our coaches to help him bridge the gap."
McDaniels credited his mother, Shawn, for giving him a chance.
"My mom, she's helped me. We've been through a lot together," McDaniels said. "She's pushed me so hard. Without her, I wouldn't be this far. So I give the glory to God, and give the glory to my mom. She's definitely the reason I'm here, why I got to Clemson."
McDaniels led Clemson in scoring, rebounding, 3-pointers, blocks and steals this year. He joins former Clemson center Sharone Wright (sixth overall in 1994) and guard Will Solomon (33rd overall in 2001) as the only Tigers in school history to declare early for the NBA draft. (Skip Wise left after his freshman year in 1975 for the ABA.)
"It's a great day for Clemson basketball," Brownell said. "Any time you help one of your players realize a dream, it's special, and that's what we're in the business of doing.
"This is one of the things we want to do, is we want to send guys to the NBA."
The season ended 21 days before McDaniels' decision was made public - he knew he was turning professional late last week - and the early entry deadline is Sunday. Rather than make an emotional decision, he patiently waited to ensure he was at peace with leaving college.
"It's going to be difficult leaving the Clemson family. I've enjoyed everything Clemson has done for me," McDaniels said. "But it's a dream come true, and it's what I've been wanting. I've been chasing after this, and I felt like it was a good time to go and chase the dream."
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