By Will Vandervort
Brad Brownell has been pushing K.J. McDaniels as a First-Team All-ACC player before January even rolled around. And Clemson’s leading scorer has done nothing to go against those claims since then.
Playing against the nation’s top defensive team on Saturday, the 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward scored a game-high 24 points on 6 of 13 shooting which included making a career-high 11 free throws on 13 attempts in a 63-58 loss to No. 16 Virginia. Of course this all came after he scored 30 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and had six blocks shots at Notre Dame last Tuesday.
“Every time I talk to people I tell them that I hope they take notice of the kind of player he is,” Brownell said. “He is having a fantastic year. His consistency is what we have all been hoping to see and I think he is starting to show that.”
McDaniels has scored at least 10 points in 21 of the Tigers’ 24 games this season and 10 of those times he scored at least 20 points. He also had three blocked shots Saturday, giving him 66 for the season. It is the most in a single season by a Tiger since Jerai Grant had 78 in 2010-11.
“When he scores 24 points and has 30 at Notre Dame and then 20 something points at Florida State, those are huge games,” Brownell said. “A normal game is 15 or 16 points, but for him to have huge games where he is getting 24 or more points, he is playing at a very high level.
“I think people are starting to take notice of that and certainly I have been talking about him all season.”
Besides putting up gaudy numbers and making SportsCenter highlights, McDaniel has also become a better teammate, becoming more talkative and leading with his actions and trying to get them more involved with the offense.
“I think he is getting better at that,” Brownell said. “He still misses a guy at times, but we ask him to score so much that he has to have the ability to go and attack.
“His confidence has grown from that. He has gotten stronger. His strength this year has really helped him. Being bigger and stronger has helped adsorb contact and finish plays. He can go take a hit, take the next step and get closer to the basket to finish a play.”
McDaniels is the only player in the country that leads his team in scoring, rebounding, block shots and steals. He is second in the ACC in scoring, averaging more than 17points a game. His 24 point-effort against Virginia was impressive in so many ways.
The Cavaliers came into Saturday’s game with the league’s top scoring defense (55.5) and the second best field goal percentage defense (.382). Virginia has shut down some of the top scorers in the ACC in NC State’s T.J. Warren, BC’s Oliver Hanlen, Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Duke’s Jabari Parker.
“Obviously his skill level has improved where he can do more things,” Brownell said. “You are watching a guy through the course of the season that is finding out what he can and can’t do and learning how to deal with guys doubling.”
What we have been watching is a super star in the making and one who deserves to be at worst a First-Team All-ACC player. He has earned it.