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Clemson's McDaniels shoots for top-30 pick

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Clemson's McDaniels shoots for top-30 pick

Clemson's K.J. McDaniels prepares to dunk during the first half of their NCAA college basketball National Invitational Tournament game against Belmont at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., on Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

From an under-the-radar recruit and an under-utilized freshman, to an over-the-rim highlight reel and overachieving ambassador for his college program, K.J. McDaniels is ready.

"I've enjoyed everything Clemson has done for me," McDaniels said April 23 upon declaring for the NBA Draft. "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."

The 6-6, 200-pound McDaniels solidified an all-ACC first-team nod in his junior season of 2013-14, the program's first such accolade since forward Trevor Booker in 2010.

That's one way McDaniels matched Booker in 2010. Thursday night, he looks to match Booker in another way: Clemson's first first-round NBA Draft selection (7:30 p.m., ESPN) in four years, as Booker went No. 23 overall to the Washington Wizards.

"Sometimes guys get drafted ahead of you and you're looking for a guy you think can be something down the road, has a higher ceiling than others, and K.J. certainly fits that mold as well," Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. "We're hopefully optimistic he'll be a first-round pick."

If McDaniels hears his name echo throughout Barclays Center in Brooklyn sometime in the first 22 picks, he'd be the Tigers' highest selection in two decades, since Sharone Wright went sixth to the 76ers in 1994.

McDaniels made his last draft visit to Charlotte - with whom he's previously worked out - on Tuesday. The Hornets hold picks at No. 9, 24 and 45.

McDaniels also worked out last week with the Denver Nuggets, who sent a scout to one of Clemson's home games this winter and possess the No. 11 selection.

"I'm so happy for him, and I'm so proud of him," said K.J.'s father, Kevin McDaniels. "I told him, whenever you go out there, and you're working out for these teams, you've got to understand, you're interviewing for a job. Once you get your foot in the door, you're going to be fine."

Three years after his son was plucked out of football-crazed Birmingham as a three-star basketball recruit to Clemson, Kevin McDaniels couldn't help but recall the tougher times when K.J. was overlooked by larger programs, then relegated to a backup role his freshman year at Clemson.

As a sophomore, McDaniels ranked second in the ACC in blocked shots (2.0 per game) and averaged 10.9 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Then in 2013-14, McDaniels upped those ticks to 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds, while shooting 46 percent from the floor and making 42 3-pointers plus becoming the ACC Defensive Player of the Year with 100 blocks and 41 steals.

"All I can say is I just wish him the best," Kevin McDaniels said. "I told him, this is a great opportunity for you to go into the league, because there's always a window, and when that window shuts, it really shuts down. His opportunity to go through it is right now."

Kevin McDaniels said K.J. and his family will be in New York during the draft Thursday, with family traveling from Baltimore, Miami and Mobile, Ala., for the occasion.

"Once they call his name," Kevin said, "from there, we're going to celebrate."

Once some team calls K.J.'s name, provided it's in the first round, Clemson gets another bragging point to sell as it attempts to amplify the program's profile.

"He was a first-team all-league guy who affected the game in so many ways," Brownell said. "We won't have anybody doing that, but I do think it's given our players confidence and hopefully given us some positive momentum into the spring and summer to work hard and know we can be successful in the league."

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