High School Sports

Jaden McDaniels has already thrown an alley-oop to himself this season. But, there’s much more to the nation’s No. 5 recruit

Federal Way’s Jaden McDaniels photographed at the Tacoma News Tribune in Tacoma Wash., on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018.
Federal Way’s Jaden McDaniels photographed at the Tacoma News Tribune in Tacoma Wash., on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

The dunk is less than two weeks old, but it already has more than 1 million views across social media platforms. Jaden McDaniels, the lengthy five-star recruit out of Federal Way High School, snags a pass near midcourt, dribbles once before leaping to his left to evade a defender, and throws an alley-oop off of the backboard — to himself.

He looks toward a camera with a subtle smile after his feet touch the floor again, and hustles back on defense as the crowd cheers.

“The videos don’t show it,” McDaniels said. “There weren’t a lot of people there, but it was super loud. People were going crazy. ... It was just a shocking moment.”

McDaniels said there was a gathering behind one laptop after the game, with people trying to catch a glimpse of the replay. The 6-foot-11 senior forward has produced plenty of highlight-worthy dunks during his career, but says the slam that shook the Enumclaw gym is his favorite.

“I like that one a lot,” McDaniels said. “Bradley (Graham) got a steal, and I meant to pass it to Tari (Eason), but a defender came, and I didn’t know what to do. So, I just threw it off the glass, and I ended up dunking it.”

McDaniels has long been considered one of the most explosive high school basketball players in Washington, is ranked the state’s top recruit in the 2019 class by 247Sports.com, and is the No. 5 prospect in his class nationally.

He is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, because he has the versatility to play anywhere on the floor, has a smooth jump shot to match his thrilling plays in the paint and is long and effective on defense.

“He’s skilled not just because he can shoot and dunk, but (because) he causes a lot of mismatches,” Federal Way interim coach Yattah Reed said. “Usually at 6-9 or 6-10, you’re looking for a guard to pass the ball to, so they can go post up. But, if he gets the rebound, he’s taking it.

“He’s just a skilled player for his size. He can guard from the 1 to the 5 spot. It’s great for us, but I’m sure it’s difficult for opponents.”

McDaniels had eight reported offers from Power 5 schools before narrowing his list of college choices to five — San Diego State (where his older brother Jalen plays), Kentucky, Texas, UCLA and Washington — earlier this fall.

He played offseason AAU basketball with Seattle Rotary, and said recruiting started to ramp up his junior season when he played on the Nike EYBL circuit.

“Summer went really well, just playing on the circuit, just me and my teammates getting a lot of exposure playing in front of top programs. It was real fun,” McDaniels said.

“It picked up quite fast. Colleges started coming from left and right. I was just playing my game, and being a good player, and doing the right things. That’s what all the coaches who were recruiting me were telling me.”

Reed, who has been an assistant for the Eagles for the past two decades, says McDaniels is the most heavily recruited player to ever come through the storied Federal Way program, which won Class 4A titles in 2016, 2015 and 2009.

Reed said McDaniels is one of the best players the Eagles have ever produced. And, that list is long, and includes current Division I players like Jalen McDaniels, Viont’e Daniels (WSU) and Ferron Flavors (Cal Baptist).

Further back, Federal Way has sent plenty more players — like Cole Dickerson (San Francisco), Michael Dickerson (Arizona), Donny Marshall (UConn), Terrell Smith (Pacific), Pooh Williams (Utah State), and others — to Division I programs.

“I’ll say he’s the most skilled player we’ve every had,” Reed said of Jaden McDaniels. “Each one of the guys that came through here brought something unique, so I can’t just say he’s the best player we’ve had. But, he’s definitely the most skilled player we’ve had at his size, and it’s fun to coach him.”

McDaniels averaged 21.3 points, 10 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 blocks last season as a junior at Federal Way, and paced the Eagles to a runner-up finish in Class 4A. Each of his first three seasons in high school the Eagles took home a state trophy.

“He’s been skilled like that since he came as a freshman,” Reed said. “He just took advantage of his opportunity during the summer, training with his trainer, getting in the gym, and he just blossomed. And he blossomed at the right time, but he’s always been like that.”

Reed says he consistently challenges McDaniels in high school games, where McDaniels is often the best player on the court, by giving him goals to meet — which can include aiming for a certain number of deflections, assists, rebounds, pull-up shots, and engaging his teammates —to try to help McDaniels continue to develop regardless of competition level.

“The biggest way he has grown from last winter to today is just his maturity and understanding of how important his leadership is for this team, of getting his teammates involved, and knowing he’s going to to need them as we get later on into the season,” Reed said.

Federal Way has played several nationally renowned teams during early season tournaments, and Reed said the Eagles are taking each game as it comes, instead of thinking about a return to the Tacoma Dome in March.

“A state championship would be nice, but we’re taking it one step at a time, going to these tournaments, and trying to get better every day in practice, and help my teammates,” McDaniels said. “I feel like we can grow a lot more, talk a lot more on defense and get our chemistry better.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.