Head coach Tad Boyle described the 2020-21 Colorado men’s basketball squad as a “barbell” team.
The Buffaloes’ roster will be weighted heavily at both ends of the spectrum. On one side is a glut of newcomers highlighted by incoming freshmen Dominique Clifford, Tristan da Silva, Luke O’Brien, and Jabari Walker. Add redshirt freshman Keeshawn Barthelemy to that list and the Buffs will enter the preseason with five potential rotation players who have yet to play a minute of college basketball.
At the other end is a large senior class led by returning starters McKinley Wright IV, assuming he returns, and D’Shawn Schwartz, as well as a likely frontcourt fixture in Tulsa graduate transfer Jeriah Horne. Amid that group also is backup guard Maddox Daniels, a veteran by virtue of his status as a senior but who nonetheless is coming off his first Division I season after transferring from SouthWestern State junior college in Florida.
As is the case for most junior college transfers, the 2019-20 campaign offered several ups and downs for Daniels during his first season at CU. The long-distance specialist started strong but faded late — perhaps a solid metaphor for the entire team — and Daniels is taking aim at putting together a more consistent ledger as a senior.
“Starting the season off last year was great, but I really felt like as I started to work on my body more I felt stronger going into the last couple months of the season and the last stretch of conference play,” Daniels said. “Just staying the course, staying consistent with my progress, making sure that I’m working on my body, that was key for me. I don’t know if it showed on all angles, but I really do feel like despite the way the season ended I felt like I was turning in a positive direction.”
Boyle and his staff targeted Daniels to help bolster the Buffs’ long-range efficiency, and in the early stages of the season, Daniels did just that. In his CU debut against Arizona State in China, Daniels came off the bench to go 2-for-3 on 3-pointers, eventually finishing with a 7-for-12 mark from 3-point range through the season’s first five games.
Daniels cooled down but still had his moments, scoring eight points off the bench in a home win against Utah and going a combined 5-for-7 on 3-pointers during a February home sweep of Washington State and Washington. Yet after missing the Feb. 1 game at USC due to a concussion, Daniels was just 5-for-18 (.278) on 3-pointers over the final 10 games.
Despite the late slide, Daniels believes he was a more confident and comfortable player at the end of his first Division I season, and he hopes that experience will translate to more consistency next year. Even with the late slump, Daniels still finished with a solid 3-point mark of .382. As a team, CU shot .351 from 3-point range after posting a .323 mark a year earlier.
“I think I was definitely a lot more comfortable,” Daniels said. “The game started to slow down. Going into next year, I think that’s going to carry over. I think last season was last season and this season was this season. That’s kind of how I feel.”
This past season, the 6-foot-6 Daniels essentially was the only bigger wing option off the bench behind Schwartz. That won’t be the case next year with the 6-foot-5 Clifford and 6-foot-7 O’Brien joining the mix. Boyle said Daniels’ decision-making — when to drive past a closing defense, when to pull up for a mid-range jumper — will be critical to his impact as a senior.
“It’s hard for junior college players because they’re basically going from one team to another team and they’re expected to fit in quickly and seamlessly. I think Maddox did a great job of that,” Boyle said. “Obviously he’s a guy we know can make shots. We need him to be a legitimate 3-point threat on a consistent basis and be a good decision-maker. Not necessarily a play-maker, but a decision-maker. Those kinds of decisions will be critical for him to have a great senior year.”