McDaniels not tipping his hand

K.J. McDaniels

CLEMSON - It's hard to know what K.J. McDaniels is going to do once Clemson's NIT run comes to an end. Then again, that really shouldn't be a big surprise.

McDaniels has always been more of the quiet type anyway.

Never one to crave the spotlight or to command attention, he would rather go about his business and be left alone to do his thing than dominate headlines.

The problem is, he's so good for Clemson basketball it's now unavoidable. His spectacular dunks and smothering defense have grabbed headlines and owned SportsCenter's Top 10 plays for months.

And now, many pundits view him as a first-round pick for the 2014 draft as he clearly has the option of leaving Tigertown after just his junior season.

Of course, Clemson fans are used to this kind of talk when it comes to Dabo Swinney's Tigers. Going all the way back to the late Gaines Adams, to Justin Miller, Kyle Parker, C.J. Spiller, Tajh Boyd and Vic Beasley, it seems like a yearly tradition of star underclassmen making their intentions known to the general public.

But in basketball? It just doesn't happen around here... at least until now.

So as Clemson continues its run in the NIT next Tuesday against SMU (7 PM - ESPN2), we are left to wonder: What will K.J. do?

If he leaves, Clemson basketball survives but won't be thought of in the same light next season. A good team? Perhaps. But one that will certainly lack star power and will faced with the daunting task of replacing 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks per game- not to mention the ACC-player-of-the-year caliber defense.

If he returns, the possibilities are endless.

The Tigers would welcome back their entire team in 2014-15, plus get a healthy sharp-shooter in Patrick Rooks, and Gabe DeVoe and power forward Donte Grantham. After a fifth-place finish this in the league this year, chances are that team would be a lock for the upper echelon of the ACC and the NCAA Tournament.

In fact, it could very well be Clemson's best basketball team since its Sweet 16 squad of 1996-97.

However, McDaniels, thus far, has kept everything close to the vest. We don't know what is he going to do. And neither does he.

As he exited Littlejohn Coliseum Tuesday night after the Tigers' 73-68 win over Belmont, it was obvious his emotions were bubbling up to the surface as the 10,000-plus fans chanted, "One more year! One more year!"

The fans, head coach Brad Brownell, K.J. himself, and the rest of team were all aware this could be his last home game in Littlejohn.

"That word - emotional. That's how I felt," McDaniels tells CUTigers the day after. "It was extremely emotional. I haven't thought about it (the decision) as much but it's something I'm going to have to think about after we try to go make history up at Madison Square Garden. I will talk it over with family but the other night was extremely emotional."

McDaniels will be advised by a number of people as he goes through the decision-making process- including Brownell, his family and also former first-round draft pick and Clemson standout Sharone Wright.

Wright told CUTigers last week if he was forced to give K.J. advice at the present moment, he would tell him to return to school. But he also believes the option to leave early for the NBA should get heavy consideration as well.

"I'm trying to stay away from giving him a definitive answer to all of this because that would make me be held accountable," Wright said. "But if it were me, knowing that we have the Grantham kid coming in and who we have coming back- I would go back to school. What people don't realize is K.J. will be fine either way. He's a hard worker and a good kid. He'll work hard enough to have a solid career. But if you are thinking about guaranteed money and your career and how you want your life to go plus where he's projected to go - there's no guarantee in that.

"If you are going to go in the top 10, then it's automatic. It's automatic. So I would say that - if you are going in the top 10-12 picks, then I say leave. If not, then I say come back."

The majority of mock drafts in cyberspace (who knows how much those are worth) have McDaniels going 15 or lower... but who is to say that will remain the case if McDaniels shows out in the world's most famous arena next week?

While it may just be the NIT, the competition will actually be pretty good- Clemson will face an NBA legend in Larry Brown in its first game against SMU- and the spotlight will definitely shine bright at MSG. If he plays well in the city that never sleeps, it certainly won't hurt his stock. Right?

If he goes for another career-high tying 30 points and 14 rebounds against SMU, a team many thought was a lock for the Big Dance this year before a late skid cost them the opportunity, where will those mock drafts put McDaniels then? While a large degree of uncertainty surrounds all of this the good news is the deadline for underclassmen to announce their decision is April 27, and McDaniels won't wait that long to announce intentions.

"I really haven't thinking about it as much right now," McDaniels assures. "I've just tried to focus on the task at hand now. I'm trying to be the best I can at Clemson and trying to make my teammates better. Once it's over, I will probably take a couple of days and sit down and talk with my family and everything and start to figure things out and go from there."

So while we all anxiously await his decision, which come as early as the next two weeks, it's worth mentioning there are other goodies that come along with McDaniels' development this season.

First, you have to believe the mere fact Brownell and his coaching staff have helped mold this former three-star prospect into a first-round pick will do worlds of good on the recruiting trail. And the buzz surrounding Clemson's run in the NIT with the fan base has been something we haven't witnessed in football-crazed upstate South Carolina in years. People are excited about Clemson basketball again and there's a feeling that Brad Brownell has turned the corner here and is building something special.

So even if McDaniels leaves, there's still plenty of good to come from this story.

But as it stands now, the final chapter in the K.J. McDaniels book at Clemson has yet to be written. And the question remains: will that chapter chronicle another game (or two) or another season?
We don't know the answer just yet... and chances are K.J. doesn't either.

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