Freshman hoops players come in many forms.
There are the guys who step in on Day 1 looking like grown-ass men, able to easily get a role as an extra in the kind of pro basketball movie that stars either a Wayans brother, a golden retriever or both. Matt Mitchell or Tim Shelton circa 2007 are great examples of this.
Then there are the guys who would definitely get their IDs thoroughly scrutinized were they ever to attempt to buy a pack of smokes. Even after a redshirt season, wiry 6-10 forward Jalen McDaniels definitely falls into this category.
Every time I see McDaniels on the court, I’m struck with the strangely maternal urge to go home and bake him a pie. Eat, eat, Jalen – you’re skin and bones!
(Note: I will not actually do this. Not only should Jalen not accept homemade pastries from strange bearded men, it’s also the kind of NCAA infraction that would get a mid-major program the death penalty.)
Yet McDaniels is starting to show signs that his game is more mature than his physique might lead you to believe. In a couple of productive performances at the Wooden Legacy last weekend, McDaniels looked like a useful reserve. In the Aztecs’ 75-52 home win over Bradley Sunday afternoon, he looked like a weapon.
With Trey Kell and his balky ankle taking the afternoon off, McDaniels came off the bench to post game highs with 14 points and 12 rebounds in 26 minutes. We always knew he would be active and athletic, but against the Braves he looked composed — like the game is starting to slow down for him.
As the Aztecs sprinted out to an early 30-8 lead (SDSU was never really tested), McDaniels tipped in misses on consecutive trips down the floor, then splashed a 3 from the corner two possessions later.
SDSU trounced its annual Missouri Valley Conference foe — a 7-2 team that has beaten precisely nobody of note — by playing suffocating defense, getting out in transition and by getting to the line to make 23-of-29 free throws. Jeremy Hemsley slashed to the basket and drew enough contact to score 8 of his 13 points from the stripe, while also adding 5 rebounds and five assists.
Malik Pope (foot) played only 18 minutes, but still added 13 points and 6 rebounds and sent this poor kid back to Peoria, Illinois in a full body cast.
The Aztecs, now 7-2, have just one game left before their all-important Dec. 21 showdown with Gonzaga — next Saturday against Cal. In case you hadn’t heard, Cal is pretty bad. It’s probably a big deal for them to play SDSU, though.