Xavier McDaniel couldn’t be stopped — all the way to the Hall of Fame

11/23/2013 3:36 PM

08/06/2014 9:03 AM

In the opening minutes of the 1985 Tulsa-Wichita State game at Levitt Arena, Xavier McDaniel grabs a rebound with one hand and slams the ball through the hoop.

Vintage McDaniel. A rebound. A dunk. The crowd goes nuts and the camera finds a young fan in a Hawaiian shirt pumping his fist. McDaniel produced an X-load of those memories during his Shocker career from 1981-85.

A former player sent Tulsa center Brian Rahilly, now coach at Cascia Hall Prepatory School in Tulsa, a link to a video of that game. He watches occasionally, in part because Tulsa won and in part because he likes to give Tracy Moore, his assistant coach, a hard time. Moore played the role of unfortunate spectator under the basket when McDaniel dunked.

“Xavier just smashes it and it’s right over Tracy,” Rahilly said. “I kind of play it for Tracy when we’re having a beer.”

Sunday is a good day to drink a beer and tell Xavier McDaniel stories. He becomes the first Shocker basketball player to enter a major hall of fame when he is inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in a ceremony at Kansas City’s Midland Theatre on Sunday evening.

“I’ve been very excited, very humbled that I’m there,” McDaniel said. “Even though I think (former teammates) Antoine (Carr) and probably Cliff (Levingston) deserve to be there. I guess I’ll be the first to go and bring those guys behind me.”

One guy happy for McDaniel is former Bradley coach Dick Versace, known to Shocker fans as the man who dared to impugn McDaniel’s statistics. On McDaniel’s way to leading the nation in scoring (27.2 points) and rebounding (14.8) in 1984-85, Versace said WSU exaggerated his rebounding production in a bit of gamesmanship that fit right into the flamboyant Missouri Valley Conference.

“I was a fairly vocal coach in the media and on the court,” Versace said last week. “I tried to get to X and I said that they pad his stats. I didn’t know whether they did or didn’t. It got a little brouhaha going. He lays about 31 (points) and 17 (rebounds) on us. He comes by late in the game and said, ‘You’re going to pad those stats.’ I said, ‘OK, you won that one.’”

McDaniel relished games against Bradley, scoring 43 and 33 points and grabbing 20 and 22 rebounds against Versace as a senior.

“I just wanted to show him that if you set your mind to something you can do it,” McDaniel said. “I guess he became a fan.”

McDaniel, a 6-foot-8 forward, won most of his battles during his career at WSU. He scored 2,152 points to rank second in the program’s history. His 1,359 rebounds rank first. He earned MVC Player of the Year honors in 1984 and 1985 and consensus All-America honors in 1985 before Seattle picked him fourth in the NBA Draft. He played 12 NBA seasons, six with Seattle, and earned a spot in the 1988 All-Star Game.

“X was extremely tenacious and he worked really hard behind the scenes,” WSU teammate Aubrey Sherrod said. “The big thing with him was rebounding. We never talked about points.”

McDaniel started as a sophomore on WSU’s 1983 MVC champions and led the 1984 team to the NIT and the 1985 team to the NCAA Tournament by winning the MVC Tournament. The Shockers, needing to win the tournament to get in, won 84-82 at Tulsa with McDaniel scoring 34 points.

“He was the mentally toughest guy to play with and against,” teammate Gary Cundiff said. “He would will teams to win. He would will himself to push through everything and be as great as he was.”

The numbers fail to fully explain McDaniel’s popularity and reputation. He shaved his head and played with a scowl and a sense of enthusiasm, menace and physical superiority. Had he played for current WSU coach Gregg Marshall, Marshall would retire his “ball-getter” compliment in his honor.

“He was just gifted with a big-time motor,” Versace said. “He had a big-time motor and he had all the skills to go with it. A lethal combination.”

Rahilly thought so as he grouped McDaniel with Bradley’s Hersey Hawkins and Louisville’s Billy Thompson as landmark opponents from his four seasons at Tulsa.

“X was a handful,” Rahilly said. “If you did not stay on top of him, he would take over a game. You look back on your own career and think ‘wow’ and you’re almost grateful to have played against guys like that.”

For all his physical gifts, McDaniel hopes WSU fans remember him as an unselfish player who hustled. At halftime, assistant coach Jeff Jones would recite his rebounds — never points — and McDaniel would vow to grab more in the second half.

“I never took plays off,” he said. “I want to be remembered as somebody who gave it their all, a hard-nosed player that played the game hard, aggressive and wasn’t a gunner.”

Contrary to McDaniel’s intimidating reputation, opponents called him a friendly competitor — as long as they didn’t stand in his way for a loose ball. Former Creighton guard Gary Swain said McDaniel would visit the Bluejays in their dorm, because of his friendship with center Benoit Benjamin, before games in Omaha.

“He had a great attitude, great sportsmanship,” Swain said. “He always played hard and he always played the right way.”

Fans took to McDaniel quickly when he came in as an overlooked member of a blockbuster 1981 recruiting class that included McDonald’s All-Americans Greg Dreiling and Aubrey Sherrod, both from Wichita. McDaniel won fans as a freshman with his hard work as a reserve.

Chapter 1 of the McDaniel legend says that he met Carr and Levingston, both juniors, and said, “One of you is going to have to sit down.”

But McDaniel says that conversation never happened. He does admit to advising Levingston to declare for the NBA Draft after the 1981-82 season. McDaniel, after his freshman year, knew he wanted a bigger role as a sophomore in 1982-83.

“I thought it was a good idea that he did go pro, because I was ready to step up and be a major player in college basketball,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel backed that up in his first action of the 1982-83 season. With Carr sidelined with a stress fracture, McDaniel scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 81-80 exhibition win over the Soviet national team. That production became common for McDaniel, who totaled nine career games of 20 points and 20 rebounds, more than any Shocker.

McDaniel’s success started long before the game. He wanted to win sprints in practice. He wanted to grab every rebound. He wanted his teammates to practice as hard as he did.

“He made practices a war,” Cundiff said. “(Coach) Gene (Smithson) liked them that way. You were happy to get to the game time so X was on your team and not beating you up.”

McDaniel’s pre-game routine also became part of his legend. He started taking a shower before each game while at A.C. Flora High in Forest Acres, S.C., near Columbia. At WSU, he would nap after afternoon shootaround, then take a 30-minute shower, letting the water go cold, in his room or hotel before leaving for the arena. Once there, he took another shower. He went through the scouting report in his mind and focused on the 40 minutes to come. He listened to music, on his boom box or using Levingston’s. His musical tastes included Run-D.M.C., Hall and Oates, Whodini and The Human League. Moving to Kansas, he said, forced him to listen to different kinds of music.

He continued the ritual through his NBA career.

“When something works for you, you stick with it,” he said. “I never skipped one.”

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