For the past three years, opposing high school basketball teams have had to gear up for one player in particular when facing off against Davis. That tough matchup is lightning-quick point guard Graham McDaniel, with a game as fiery as his bright red hair.
McDaniel, who has made the All-Delta Valley Conference team the past two years as the Blue Devils’ starter, possesses a kind of veteran leadership that has been much-needed for DHS this year. That’s because star forward Tim Mohr, another three-year starter, is projected to miss at least three more weeks with a broken wrist, and the Devils sport just two other seniors.
Being at the top of the pack is nothing new to McDaniel, and not just on the basketball court. In 2001, he took home the winner’s trophy in the K-3 division of the Sacramento High School Chess Championship, just one of the many first-place finishes he’s accumulated behind the chessboard. He also excelled as a trumpeter and guitarist in the Davis music program, and has acted in his some of brother Colin’s award-winning films.
But this season, McDaniel’s biggest accomplishments have come with a basketball in his hands, and Davis has struggled when he’s been unable to take the court. Last month, McDaniel came down with an illness, missing much of the ESPN/iScore Tournament. The Blue Devils stumbled and lost all four of their games at the San Diego-based event, though the competition was tough and three of the contests were decided by fewer than five points.
“There’s no doubt we need a healthy Graham for us to play to our full potential,” DHS head coach Dan Gonzalez says. “I anticipate that he has a good shot at a third (all-league) year in a row.”
McDaniel has been performing at a high level since he picked up a ball for the first time in second grade, and hopes to continue his dominance next year in college, even if it is only during pickup and intramural games. On his way to earning the starting point guard spot when he was just a sophomore, McDaniel has learned that studying the game is a great way to supplement his natural talent.
“When I’m in the game I don’t think about it, but I watch a lot of college and pro (players),” McDaniel explains. “I kind of look at the point guards, and I wouldn’t say I try and copy one in particular, but I try and follow the best ones.”
For the Blue Devils to regain the stellar form that resulted in a 7-1 start to the season, McDaniel will have to prepare his younger teammates for the challenges of Delta Valley Conference play at the varsity level. Davis is now 7-8 overall and begins the defense of its 2010 league title when it hosts Grant tonight at 7 p.m.
“Being a third-year varsity player, it’s important for him to mentor young players coming up,” Gonzalez says. “(His role is) to be a leader in practices … really a leader on and off the court.”
McDaniel believes a reason for the Devils’ current seven-game losing streak is their inexperience, which leads to a lack of execution in crunch time. DHS has lost each of the games by seven points or fewer, including a 52-51 heartbreaker against Poway High.
“I don’t think it’s very different the way we (have played during the skid),” McDaniel adds. “We just need to be more focused in pressure situations and not rush. I think if we slow down and relax we should be OK.”
Before the down stretch, McDaniel’s play was a big reason for the Blue Devils’ strong start to the season. DHS dusted three quality teams, including rival Will C. Wood, on its way to winning its own Les Curry Invitational. McDaniel averaged 6.6 points and five assists per game to earn the tournament MVP.
And despite the recent slide, Davis’ floor general thinks the Devils still have a shot at getting to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“It really depends how we do in league,” McDaniel says. “If we go in really aggressive and playing hard (like earlier in the year), then I think we can get into the playoffs.”
The Aggies have only one game next week but it is a big one as it will be televised on ESPNU. UCD is at Long Beach State on Wednesday at 8 p.m.