High school coach of Villanova star Caleb Daniels expected his college success
It all started for Caleb Daniels in New Orleans at St. Augustine High School.
Now the Villanova star will return home to play on the college basketball’s biggest stage in the NCAA Final Four this weekend.
The Wildcats take on Kansas in the national semifinal Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In his senior season, Daniels has become a very important player in the run to the Final Four for Jay Wright’s Wildcats.
After averaging 9.6 points per game a season ago, Daniels is averaging 10.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game this season, playing in all 34 games with two starts. Daniels is shooting 37.7 percent from three-point range.
With a key injury to junior guard Justin Moore, who tore his right Achilles tendon in the Elite Eight win over Houston, Daniels will have to take on an even larger role Saturday, stepping into the starting lineup to replace Moore. The Jayhawks are the only top seed to make the Final Four.
The former Purple Knight is ready for the challenge.
Daniels played his first two college seasons at Tulane where he developed quickly. After averaging 6.4 points as a freshman for Mike Dunleavy, Daniels blossomed in his sophomore season and averaged 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists for the hometown Green Wave.
Tulane made a coaching change, dismissing Dunleavy and bringing in Ron Hunter. After that, Daniels made the move to Villanova. He had to sit out a year but the decision paid off.
At St. Augustine, Daniels was a second team All-state performer and the MVP of the Catholic League in 2017. His varsity coach was Mitchell Johnson, who knew very early that Daniels would be a special player.
“It was easy to see,” Johnson said. “The thing that really separated him was his work ethic, on and off the court. A lot of people don’t know that Caleb is an excellent student. He takes his school work as serious as he takes basketball. He has always put in his time in the gym. You could see the potential when he was in seventh grade.”
Like many, Johnson hated to see Daniels leave New Orleans and Tulane but completely understood the move.
“Unfortunately, they (Tulane) had a coaching change and he decided that he wanted to challenge himself a little bit in his basketball career. I guess he made the best decision by going to Villanova, as evidence by the fact that he will be starting in the Final Four. It worked out for him. I spoke with Caleb before they played Michigan (Sweet 16). Every time I speak with him, I tell him to keep plugging and to be himself.”
Johnson knows that his pupil is in good hands with Wright.
“Jay Wright is definitely one of the very best coaches in the country,” Johnson said. “He is very, very detailed. His kids share the ball and they play defense so well. He is an elite coach, they are an elite program and it is very, very impressive to watch.”
It has been a great year for former St. Augustine players, including Devante’ Jones at Michigan, Javan Felix, who was an assistant coach for Loyola’s national championship team, along with Daniels.
“Most definitely, most definitely,” Johnson said. “That was great to watch Devante’ and Caleb play against one another in the Sweet 16. Seeing those guys on that stage, it was just unbelievable to see them put in the work to get to that moment. Javan has made St. Aug very proud as well.”
While Daniels has been very good on the offensive end, it is the other end of the floor which impresses Johnson most.
“I like the fact that he can guard multiple positions,” Johnson said. “He’s very, very talkative, communicative on defense. That’s something that we did and stressed in high school. We talk on defense a lot and they do at Villanova. He does a great job of rebounding outside of his zone area. That’s a reason why he plays a lot of minutes for Villanova.”
Daniels was never a prolific scorer at St. Augustine.
“He could have scored more but he was unselfish,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have to take 20 shots per game because we had a balanced attack. Even when he took 10 shots, he was making eight of them. He has always been an efficient player.”
Daniels has a special place in the long, rich legacy of Johnson’s coaching career.
“Caleb is an unbelievable athlete and he is strong,” Johnson said. “He is versatile. He can shoot the ball, he can play in the post. He would rank as one of the top four players I have ever coached. I am not surprised to see him where he is now. He has earned it.”
New Orleans and Purple Knight nation has a huge rooting interest this weekend.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…