McDaniels named The News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year
A lot of statistics get thrown at Jaden McDaniels.
The Federal Way High School senior is a five-star basketball recruit, with prestigious Division I offers he has narrowed down to five favorites — San Diego State, where his older brother Jalen plays, Kentucky, Texas, UCLA and Washington.
McDaniels is the consensus No. 5 player in the nation in the 2019 class, and the top-ranked player in Washington, who averaged 23.3 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks per game in pacing Federal Way to a third-place finish in the Class 4A state tournament this season.
Later this month, he will become just the 14th boys basketball player in state history to wear a McDonald’s All-American jersey when he plays in the annual all-star game.
For all of these reasons, and several more that numbers can not be attached to, McDaniels is The News Tribune’s 2019 All-Area boys basketball player of the year.
“He’s successful at this sport because he understands the game. He has a high IQ,” Federal Way coach Yattah Reed said. “That’s half the battle there. But, the other part is he has a work ethic.
“He’s a gym rat. It’s just all of the work that he puts in, and all of the stuff he does behind the scenes. ... I’m just happy it finally came to the surface so that everybody was able to see.”
What can’t be measured by a statistic, and what many don’t get to see, is how McDaniels grew to love the sport that has brought him all of this national attention.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said. “My brother, my cousins, everybody in my family played basketball. So, I feel like just growing up, being around it, that’s where it came from.”
McDaniels said his earliest memories of basketball are playing in a recreational league at the Boys and Girls club in Federal Way when he was about 5 years old.
He played alongside some players he knows now, games were simple, and played about once a week.
The highlight-reel dunks the 6-foot-11 guard-forward combination produces now, he first started to learn as an eighth-grader, and didn’t show off until his freshman season.
“I would always try it, and one day I just did it,” McDaniels said. “It’s just really fun being creative, just how high you get, and the things you can do like going between your legs, behind the back, 360 (degrees) — it’s a lot of fun.”
Federal Way won an undefeated 4A state championship when he was a freshman, and Jalen — who is projected to be drafted following his redshirt sophomore season at San Diege State — was a senior.
“It was fun playing with him and competing with him in practice,” McDaniels said of his brother. “I feel like it helped me a lot.”
His sophomore season was when his recruitment picked up, offers started pouring in, and he vaulted to the nationally recognized player he is now.
“My sophomore year I started playing on the AAU circuit, and I started getting more exposure,” McDaniels said. “Coming into my junior year, I guess you could say I had a pretty good season, and when we went to the state tournament, that’s really where everything started for me.
“I was just playing harder, and making sure all of my mechanics were good.”
McDaniels won back-to-back 4A NPSL Olympic MVP awards as a junior and senior, while also becoming a two-time All-Area pick by TNT, and a two-time all-state pick by TNT and the Associated Press.
He won four 4A NPSL titles in his career, two 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict titles, and appeared in the 4A state tournament all four seasons of his high school career — each time leaving with a trophy.
This season, he also broke Federal Way’s single-game scoring record with a career-high 51 points in a win over Todd Beamer, and finished his four-year career with 107 wins in a Federal Way jersey.
“There’s that saying that hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard,” said Federal Way junior Tari Eason, another TNT All-Area pick who complemented McDaniels on the floor this season.
“He has a lot of talent, that he could easily be complacent, but he still continues to work every day.”
Most see the undeniable talent and the work ethic McDaniels shows when he’s on the court, but it’s his coaches and teammates who truly get to see him enjoy the game.
“He’s a happy guy,” Eason said. “He might be shy around people he doesn’t know, but people he does know he’s one of the funniest guys. He’s real cool, he’s just happy.”
Eason recalled a five-on-five scrimmage earlier this season, when he was playing opposite McDaniels, and said McDaniels was having the most fun of anyone on the floor.
“There was an open gym where he just couldn’t miss,” Eason said. “He was having a lot of fun. It might not have been fun for us, because we were losing, and there was nothing we could do to stop him, but he was smiling.
“It seemed almost impossible (to stop him). I had a hand in his face. He would be off of one toe and he’d still make it. It was unbelievable.”
Reed said any frustration outsiders see when watching McDaniels play comes from the senior being his own biggest critic. McDaniels is a perfectionist, he says, and wants to succeed individually just as an avenue for his team to win games.
“When things aren’t going the way he wants them to go, it’s not in the regards of individual stats, he just wants to win that bad,” Reed said. “He loves the game. When he’s out there with his team is when he’s at his happiest.”
McDaniels hasn’t set a date for when he’ll make his college choice, but said he’s excited to take the next step, and face new challenges and obstacles.
Beyond that, he dreams about one day playing at the highest level in the NBA — perhaps with another player wearing the name McDaniels on his back.
“I think about it all the time,” he said. “Me and my brother, even playing in high school was fun. So being able to play with each other, hopefully in the NBA, that would be the greatest thing ever.”