February 02, 2017
Small Stature, Big Impact
Every team needs a spark plug. Every team needs a sixth man off the bench. Every team in every sport in every league has a game where the starters aren't getting it done, when there's a bad run, and a coach needs a way to stop the bleeding. Every team needs a guy who can check in ice-cold and immediately change the flow of the game.
For Linfield coach Shanan Rosenberg, that guy is Austin Daniels, a one-time journeyman who has found a home and an important role within the Linfield basketball program.
Daniels is unassuming. He keeps to himself. He's quiet and a man of few words. At 5-foot-9, he is the second smallest basketball player in the Northwest Conference. Low-energy and measured. He's not the guy pumping up his team in the pre-game huddle, or jumping into a dance-off on the team bus after a big road win.
Daniels saves his energy for when his team needs it most. The senior is quick, has a high basketball I.Q., and is a skilled ball handler. Despite being undersized, he enters the game feeling no fear or intimidation whatsoever.
Within moments of checking in at the scorer's table, the next play is often Daniels making a quick move, turning on the jets and driving straight toward the basket. He'll go right at whatever opposing big man dares to stand in his way, lay the ball in the hoop and often draw a foul. Heart over height. Every time.
Daniels' on-court play often sets the team ablaze. The Wildcats who are on the court pump him up as the Linfield bench goes wild. The coaching staff breathes a sigh of relief watching their senior dynamo go to work.
Emotionally, his energy on the court has evolved into a damage-control specialist. Having a veteran of Daniels' ability and calm demeanor is a needed component for a young team.
“Austin really has a calming, ensuring presence on the court,” says Rosenberg. “Everyone on the team has such a high amount of respect for him.”
That effect carries beyond the gym as well as Daniels steps into the role of leader by example and a guy who any of his teammates can relate to.
“Off the floor, I think I'm a person my teammates can come talk to about anything whether it be basketball or something else,” he says.
“His maturity and connection to his teammates really makes Austin impactful at both sides of the floor,” says Rosenberg.
Daniels had a rough start to his senior season, suffering an injury in the season-opening game against Cal Lutheran. He missed seven of the next eight games, and in the eighth game, a 74-54 win over Caltech, he saw only three minutes of playing time.
Enduring a three-game losing streak in early January that included heartbreaking near upsets of nationally ranked powerhouses Whitman and Whitworth, the Wildcats needed a spark. Activated for the Wildcats' first home game in nearly a month and with his team languishing at 2-3 in conference play, Daniels made his presence known. In a must-win game against Pacific, Daniels came off the bench for 10 crucial points, including two three-pointers, three rebounds, a fast-break, three-point play off a steal, and an uncharacteristic, elevating, momentum-swinging block. The result was a satisfying 71-58 home victory.
Since that game, Daniels has truly found a contributing role and the Wildcats have climbed the Northwest Conference standings. In the month of January, he averaged 16.9 minutes, 1.5 assists and 1.1 steals a game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.
His steady play also enabled starting guard Riley Bruil to play off the ball and find open shooting opportunities. It's in no small part thanks to Daniels that Bruil ranks sixth in the conference in three-point baskets made (44) while shooting 48.9 percent from behind the arc, third-best in the conference.
“Austin has become a disruptive piece defensively, picking his moments offensively, becoming very savvy as to when to use his different skills. He's always had the tools,” says Rosenberg. “This year he's really learned to use them.”
Anyone involved in sports will tell you the most important players are the “team-first” guys. The ones who don't play for the glory of 20 points a night but instead play for the glory of seeing their team win. As Linfield works toward securing a winning season and reclaiming the program's spot as an elite program in the Northwest Conference, that team-first guy is Austin Daniels.
“I just try to get my teammates the ball when they're open for easy shots. And I look to score when the opportunities are presented to me,” says Daniels. “I just do whatever the team needs in order to get the ‘W.'”
– Joe Stuart '19