Caleb Daniels’ Final Four homecoming with Villanova “a blessing”

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Caleb Daniels

NEW ORLEANS – Caleb Daniels played high school basketball at St. Augustine.

He started his college basketball career at Tulane University.

And now the biggest moment of his basketball life is about to take place in his hometown of New Orleans as well.

Daniels and his Villanova teammates will play Kansas in the first game of the Final Four, shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday inside the Caesars Superdome.

“It’s definitely, honestly, a true blessing and honor to be part of this, to have the Final Four here,” Daniels said Thursday at the Dome.

Daniels’ college career started five years ago when he played the first of two seasons with the Green Wave. He sat out the 2019-20 season as a transfer before starting at Villanova last season.

Caleb Daniels

“It’s just been a marathon,” Daniels said of his career. “I’ve never let the best of me or worst of me ever dictate who I was in the moment. I just stayed in the moment, stayed where my feet were, kept my head in it and realized it’s one day at a time. And honestly I feel that’s been the story of my career.”

Coach Jay Wright said Daniels “did a great job” during the year he sat out at Villanova, when he worked with the scout team while learning what it takes to be a Wildcat.

“I knew right away that he was a great fit for our program, just him as a person,” fellow guard Collin Gillespie said. “As a basketball player as well, he’s grown so much since when he first got here. He was always the other team’s best player his redshirt year. When we were doing scout, he was always pushing us, making us better. He’s gotten better ever since then.”

Shortly after his redshirt season ended, Daniels was sidelined by COVID. Once he returned he was sidelined again in April 2021 when he was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.

“He literally couldn’t do anything,” Wright said. “Nothing. He couldn’t even shoot free throws.”

Daniels returned from the myocarditis last September and tested positive again for COVID last November.

“He’s been through everything that’s made it difficult to assimilate into our program,” Wright said. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for Caleb Daniels. He’s just one of my favorite people as a player because of everything that he’s been through. He’s incredible. He’s the most amazing kid. For him to come back here is really special.

“I think he’s at a point now where he probably would’ve been at the beginning of this year, had he been able to go through all of our programs and not have to sit out.”

Daniels has started just two of the 34 games in which he has played this season, but he’s still fourth on the team in scoring and fifth in minutes played.

Like the Wildcats’ other key players, he will be expected to do even more against the Jayhawks because second-leading scorer Justin Moore had surgery this week to repair a torn Achilles he suffered in the Elite 8 victory against Houston last Saturday.

“What I think has been so impressive is his faith and his mental toughness,” Wright said. “You never saw him down – even when he was coming back from stuff, you didn’t see him frustrated. It’s incredible. And it’s why he’s in the position he is in now – and he’s playing the best basketball of his career.

“Off the court, he’s one of the most beloved players in the program. He’s like a 3.85 student, Dean’s list, respected by his teammates. He just gets better and better every day in terms of how he impacts games for us and also a true representative of what we want a Villanova basketball player to be.”

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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