The curious case of Jaden McDaniels: Trying to make sense of the UW star freshman's baffling season

The curious case of Jaden McDaniels: Trying to make sense of the UW star freshman's baffling season

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The basketball men are baffled by Jaden McDaniels.

They're in awe of the Washington Huskies freshman forward's physical gifts, including a 6-foot-9 frame and a 7-foot-7 wingspan.

And they're captivated by his diverse skillset and the various ways he impacts a game with his scoring (12.2 points per game), rebounding (5.9), shot blocking (1.5) and play making (2.1 assists per game).

But the basketball men can't understand how someone so talented and projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft can be so self-destructive, polarizing and benched in two of the past three games.

They're puzzled by his shot selection, his difficult-to-decipher body language, his Pac-12 leading 72 turnovers, his league-leading 72 personal fouls and those head-scratching five technical fouls that also lead the conference.

"The turnovers don't necessarily bother me, but five technicals with half of the conference season left is inexcusable," said Hall of Famer Bill Walton, an ESPN and Pac-12 Networks analyst. "One, OK. Two, maybe. But at some point you have to realize that winning is the ultimate goal and everything else is secondary. Always put winning first. Put the team first.

"Five technicals tells me, there's too much me and you're not putting the team first. ... He's a young man who is extremely talented. He does so many things that gives his team a good chance to win and has to realize those times when he (draws technical fouls) takes away from all of that."

McDaniels is tied with four others for the second most technical fouls among Division I players. Murray State's DaQuan Smith leads the nation with 11.

"You know the funny thing is, and I don't mean funny to make a joke, but only really good players can lead a league in (turnovers and fouls)," said college basketball analyst P.J. Carlesimo, who spent 21 years as a head coach in college and the NBA, including a stint with the Sonics in 2007-08. "You go take a look at the all-time leaders on those lists and it's nothing but Hall of Famers.

"I say that to say, how good must Jaden be to where he's giving you so much that it outweighs those things you don't like? And the answer is, he's really, really good. Now as a coach, you have to ask yourself what can I live with and how can we curb some of those erratic behaviors?"

Mike Hopkins has steadfastly defended McDaniels while trying to hold his star freshman accountable for mistakes and finding solutions to resurrect a slumping UW team that's lost five straight games.

"He's had two great days (of practice)," Hopkins said. "Moving forward for us to win, we got to play as one. You got to. It's the easiest thing as a coach to say and it's the hardest thing to execute. Offensively, we're moving the ball a little bit better and it needs to keep flowing. You can't already think now I'm going to shoot. No, the defense dictates when and what. That's the problem with pressing."

It remains to be seen if Hopkins re-inserts McDaniels into the lineup when Washington (12-11, 2-8 Pac-12) begins a stretch of three straight road games starting 3 p.m. Sunday at Washington State (13-10, 4-6).

"He's a great kid," Hopkins said. "He's gotten a bad rep with everybody and they've put him in a box. The kid is an incredible player and has an incredible amount of pressure on him."

The pressure and scrutiny will continue to increase if Washington, the defending Pac-12 champion, is unable to turn things around and make a late push for a postseason berth.

Despite an inconsistent season, McDaniels' draft stock has remained unaffected and even improved, according to various mock drafts.

He's projected as the No. 6 overall pick by NBAdraft.net while CBSsports.com has him at No. 9 and Yahoo Sports tabs him at No. 10.

"Unless he really drops off, chances are he's going to be taken near the top because he's so unique and there's a belief that his ceiling is higher than what's shown," said a NBA scout. "Because of his immaturity, some teams might be like I'm not sure we want this guy. But the talent is there."

No one disputes McDaniels' talents. However, it remains to be seen if the Huskies and their enigmatic young star can rediscover success in what's likely just a few more weeks together.

"When the team has success, there's something for everyone," Walton said. "Jaden has a remarkable opportunity in front of him to lead this young team. We've seen him do it already. Put those other things aside and just play."

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