Hard in the paint

Chaise Daniels embodies toughness through his work ethic and aggressive approach to the game

By on February 25, 2015
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Growing up, Chaise Daniels remembers being one of the worst basketball players his age. So bad, in fact, that he vividly remembers never being picked during games with his friends.

That was before Daniels started to grow and develop his skills as a basketball player.

Even more importantly, it was before he started to develop a passion for the game.

“I embraced being the underdog and it made me want to go hard,” Daniels said. “I love the game, so why not go hard?”

Daniels found that aggression at James Hillhouse High School, a local basketball powerhouse in New Haven, Conn.

Daniels transferred into Hillhouse, which owns a state-record 22 championships, after his freshman year at Maloney High School in Meriden.

“From the moment I stepped in the door, it was all about work and the road to win a state championship,” Daniels said. “Extra workouts before practice, running miles before and after practice, just trying to learn how to play basketball and win championships.”

In his three years at Hillhouse, Daniels helped bring a championship back to the school and made a name for himself. Yet, he was hardly recognized as the best player on the team.

Joe Morelli, High School Sports Editor for the New Haven Register, recalls covering Daniels during the forward’s time at Hillhouse.

“From that championship team, he is the only player playing Division I,” Morelli said. “He did a lot of the dirty work. They don’t win a state championship without Chaise Daniels. He was the piece of the puzzle that they needed.”

Daniels started to get recognized on the AAU circuit while playing for Connecticut Select, a team coached by Wayne Simone. Daniels recalls having a great summer heading into his senior year with the team.

“I had a lot of schools calling about me to see who I was, asking what my grades were, and coming to games,” Daniels said. “I told myself ‘I got their attention, now it’s time to work.’ I had to make them start offering.”

During his senior year in high school, Daniels received offers from UMass, Fairfield University, Drexel University, Tulane, St. Bonaventure University, UNC Greensboro, Marshall University, LIU Brooklyn and Hofstra.

Quinnipiac men’s basketball head coach Tom Moore also offered Daniels a scholarship. Moore remembers watching Daniels play, and was impressed with his size and willingness to play basketball tailored to the Bobcats’ system.

“Some bigs his size want to be forwards and shoot threes. He was an inside player who liked doing inside player things,” Moore said. “Blocking shots, traffic rebounding and scoring in the low post. We don’t get a lot of kids his size, with his tools and his willingness to play inside in this league. We thought he could be very special.”

Daniels didn’t make a decision on where to continue his basketball career until after he had completed his senior season at Hillhouse. During the summer, he opted to do a post-grad year at Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut rather than commit to a college program. His hope was that, with the help of PSA Athletic Director and basketball head coach Thomas Espinosa, he could eventually become an effective two-way player for any Division I basketball program.

“He was raw when we got him, his footwork was awful because he never received much work in the post,” Espinosa said. “He got better and better everyday because he felt that he had something to prove.”

Daniels listened to what the coaching staff had to say.

“They told me from the beginning that I had to put the ball in the basket,” Daniels said. “They would feed me in the post and develop my game even more.”

Just before the season at PSA began, Daniels decided to commit to Quinnipiac. He commited to the University because of the relationship that he developed with Moore and the rest of the coaching staff. He also wanted to play close to home so that friends and family could come watch him play.

After Daniels signed his letter of intent to become a Bobcat, he had a full year to get ready for the next level. He had a great year at PSA, helping the team to a 29-5 record and a berth in the National Prep Championship tournament. For Daniels, his newly acquired skills brought out his aggressive demeanor.

“I think he got the aggression from Hillhouse, he came in with that,” Espinosa said. “He is a fiery guy. He brought that fire with him everyday to practice. He wasn’t a vocal leader but he led by example.”

Daniels claims that people doubting his abilities on the court brings out his aggression and bully-in-the-paint mentality. It’s helped him become a better player on offense.

And his energy hadn’t even scratched the surface until he had reached Quinnipiac. Moore realized how impactful Daniels was in practice, and how it could impact the team going forward.

“He came in with the aggression and we foster it,” Moore said. “The upperclassmen have helped bring it out of him, especially in practice situations. Our practice atmosphere brings it out of him but he has a natural desire that he brought to Quinnipiac to play hard.”

Daniels’ determination in practice would eventually help him earn minutes in real game situations. Moore claims that a string of great practices and scrimmages in the beginning of the season, where Chaise battled against seniors Justin Harris and Ousmane Drame, gave the freshman enough confidence to trust the freshman in games.

“First time I thought he could be a strong player for us in the MAAC was during our intersquad scrimmage behind closed doors,” Moore said. “He scored 25 points and that was the first time I thought he would be ready to contribute for us this year.”

Daniels earned a starting spot at Quinnipiac on Jan. 9, and has produced in big games against rival schools since then.

In the win against Manhattan during his first start, Daniels recorded 11 points and three blocks to help guide the Bobcats to a 73-59 win at the TD Bank Sports Center.

“It was a big game for us,” Daniels said. “It was a revenge game because they beat Quinnipiac in the playoffs last year and I wanted to get payback even though I wasn’t here yet. Every game I try to give my best effort.”

Daniels followed up that performance with another strong showing against Iona about a week later. He posted career-highs with 12 points and 9 rebounds, while also blocking two shots in the loss.What impressed Moore was how solid Daniels played against two elite MAAC teams with great big men.

“From Manhattan through Iona, he has taken it to another level at a time where most freshmen would hit some kind of wall,” Moore said. “He has been ratcheting up his intensity and the production has come with it. The fearlessness and the energy that he displayed knowing that he was going to face some of the best big men in the league was great to see. As a coach that gets you excited to see.”

Though he’s only a freshman, Daniels’ aggression and energy on the floor helps influence his teammates, as well.

“He is one of the most energetic guys that we have on our team today,” senior forward Ousmane Drame said. “We rely on him for that because he gets us amped up and it helps us make those extra plays on the court. His energy is very important.”

And some believe Daniels is only getting better.

“He’s getting better and better everyday because he felt that he had something to prove. The sky is the limit,” Espinosa said. “I think he can definitely play for a living. He can have a 10-year career somewhere playing the game of basketball.”

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About Tyrell Walden-Martin

Sports Editor