Among the top 100 basketball recruits in the 2019 class, perhaps no one has boosted his stock more this spring than Seattle native Jaden McDaniels.
In last month’s 247Sports rankings update, McDaniels — a 6-foot-9, 185-pound forward — rocketed up 79 total spots, all the way to No. 10 on the national list.
A fringe top-100 prospect at the beginning of the spring, McDaniels has been one of the top players on the Nike circuit, averaging 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game through that travel circuit’s regular season.
“He’s a guy with size, length, versatility and a really improving skill set,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “The spring is a time where we get to see a lot of guys, and he’s made a pretty significant improvement over the last year. When you have a guy at his size with his type of skill level, you have to take that into account. And I thought he earned that ranking with his play.”
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McDaniels was in Colorado Springs this month to participate in the USA Basketball U18 training camp — coached by Kansas’ Bill Self — and he spent several days there competing against other five-star players in his class and a grade older.
He didn’t make the final 12-player team, but McDaniels showed flashes of his growing game and tremendous upside as a versatile forward. He was also one of the most-talked-about prospects among the national recruiting analysts and NBA types sitting courtside. Some even spoke of him as a player that could be in an NBA All-Star Game just a few years from now.
McDaniels said he’s tried to tune out the gushing praise that has corresponded with his stellar spring. The new ranking is nice, but it hasn’t been a focus of his.
“When they come out, I’ll look at them and be like, ‘All right, that’s cool.’ And then I just go back to what I’ve been doing. I don’t really pay that much mind to it,” he said. “I just go out and play my hardest every night.
“I’m just working out everyday. Trying to get better and work on everything in my game. I’m not trying to do just one thing — I’m trying to do everything and be versatile.”
College coaches are paying just as much attention to him as the recruiting analysts.
McDaniels gave the Herald-Leader a long list of top schools that have been recruiting him, including Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, San Diego State, Washington and Michigan. He said everyone on that list has come through with a scholarship offer except for Michigan, a program that typically doesn’t issue offers until a recruit comes to the school for a visit.
McDaniels isn’t that far into the process just yet.
He has only one year of high school remaining, but his recruitment is just now taking off. He doesn’t have a timetable for making a college decision or even trimming his list of schools. He also has no visits planned and hasn’t really been on any in the past.
“I’m just taking it slow,” he said, adding that it doesn’t matter to him whether he signs with a school early or waits until next spring.
For now, San Diego State might be in the best spot. That might seem an unlikely option, but McDaniels’ older brother, Jalen, was a key player for the Aztecs this past season and tested the NBA waters before deciding to return for his sophomore year. Jaden obviously has that tie to the program, and he’s well-acquainted with the coaches and campus as a result of it.
“San Diego State might be the team to beat early on, but the nation’s best are starting to get involved,” Daniels said. “Just because of the relationship with his brother being there, I’d say they’re the team to beat right now. But it’s early.”
Plenty early enough for other programs to get involved, in fact.
Some of that buzz surrounding McDaniels at USA camp centered on Kentucky being a possible dream school for the budding high school star.
He didn’t go quite that far in his interview with the Herald-Leader, but he did smile immediately at the mention of UK. Otherwise soft-spoken and reserved in his statements, he beamed at the thought of the Wildcats possibly jumping into his recruitment.
“I’d be interested,” he said with that smile. “A lot of pros came out of there, and they’re a great school. It would mean a lot, just because of the history. To get an offer from Kentucky, that’s something big.”
John Calipari has recruited the West Coast to mixed results during his tenure at UK.
Terrence Jones — an Oregon native — was one of Calipari’s top early recruits and emerged as a key player on his first two Final Four teams (and his only national championship squad).
Calipari’s only other recruits from out West have been Kyle Wiltjer and Marcus Lee, who ultimately left UK to transfer closer to home, and Jemarl Baker, who was a late addition out of California when the Cats were looking for outside shooting last spring.
Meanwhile, the Cats have missed on a few top targets from the West Coast in recent years, including Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon and Ivan Rabb.
Might they have better luck if they go after McDaniels?
“Every recruitment is different,” Daniels said. “Obviously, distance factors in. But Kentucky can recruit anywhere they want. I don’t know how much that factors in with him.”