It is a distinctive basketball name and one that comes with expectations.
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To be named after Xavier McDaniel means you’re expected to be the toughest guy on the court, intimidating with a scowl and a fierce style of play.
Xavier McDaniel Jr. welcomes the expectations from his famous name. He is a freshman guard at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, an NCAA Division I school in Edinburg, Texas.
“It carries a lot of weight,” he said. “I do what I have to do to get it right.”
Xavier McDaniel Jr. is surrounded by Wichita State basketball connections as he starts his college career. He is the son of the Shocker great and NBA All-Star Xavier McDaniel. He is coached by Lew Hill, a former Shocker.
The team slogan is AWD or “Attack With Discipline” and it’s written on the green and orange shirts the players wear during practice. The definition comes right out of the 1980s Shocker playbook.
“It requires a lot of mental toughness and you’ve got to give that extra effort,” McDaniel Jr. said.
McDaniel Jr. (6-foot-6, 170 pounds) averages 7.4 points and 4 rebounds for the Vaqueros, who are 10-17 and 2-8 in the Western Athletic Conference. He scored 27 points in his first game and grabbed a starting job in late December. In mid-January he recorded his first double-double against Cal State Bakersfield.
“He’s got a bright future,” Hill said as he watched the Vaqueros practice before a January game at Missouri-Kansas City. “He can shoot it. We want him to attack the rim more.”
McDaniel Jr. is shooting 36.4 percent from three-point range and 40.7 percent from the field. He plays more of a perimeter game than his father, more dependent on skills than force and ferocity in the early stage of his career.
“I always tell Xavier I want you to be your own person,” Hill said. “I don’t compare him to his father at all.”
At shootaround before last month’s game at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City, McDaniel Jr. didn’t move quickly enough during a drill and Hill noticed. He corrected McDaniel Jr., later telling the team he needed to hear more talk and he didn’t want to see players losing focus after a missed shot.
“Walking around the court — you can’t do that with Coach Hill,” McDaniel Jr. said. “He’ll get mad. There’s a lot of little things like that I can improve on.”
Hill is determined to coach his players hard and install an aggressive, attacking approach. He must do that to revive a program with little history of success since an NAIA title in 1963, when the school was known as Pan American University. Hill, who played at Wichita State from 1985-88, spent the past 12 seasons as an assistant to Lon Kruger at UNLV and Oklahoma.
UTRGV has never played in the NCAA Tournament as an NCAA Division I school. Since 1999-2000, it recorded two winning seasons while cycling through five coaches.
McDaniel is part of a six-man freshman class that Hill sees as his foundation. Hill also recruited junior forward Gage Loy, from North High and Garden City Community College, who averages 3.6 points off the bench.
“When you come into a program that has no culture, you’ve got to teach them how to do things they’re not used to doing,” Hill said. “I want them to play hard and have fun. So many people don’t like to use that word fun.”
Hill landed McDaniel, naturally, with help from his connection to his father. Father and son talk and text often and the elder McDaniel often travels to road games. He reads his son’s demeanor and sometimes waits a day or two to get deep into a bad performance.
“I watch him like a scout, try to watch him and try to figure out what I’m going to say after the game,” Xavier McDaniel said.
Coach and father are of the same mind when it comes to development of the player. McDaniel Jr., they both say, could benefit from more of X’s trademark tenacity.
“I had more dog in me, more orneriness, more going at it,” McDaniel said. “These kids all know each other and they play the game, sometimes, like they’re really, really good friends, like they’re helping each other out. We weren’t helping nobody out. I don’t agree with the handshake after the game.”
Hill sees the same in his young son. Basketball changed over the past 30 years and some athletes don’t take the struggle for wins as personally as some did, especially when their fathers are successful.
“X lived when you’ve got to fight for everything,” Hill said. “I grew up in New York on Third Street. It’s different.”
McDaniel Jr. attended Hammond High in Columbia, S.C., where his father runs a construction and trucking company. He spent last school year at Moravian Preparatory School in Hickory, N.C.
Wichita State didn’t recruit McDaniel Jr. and his father considers that for the best. He didn’t want his son to face the pressure of playing in an arena where his No. 34 hangs in the rafters. McDaniel Jr. said he also considered Rider and Fort Wayne before Hill and the sunny weather in south Texas lured him.
“I don’t think that would have been a good fit for him, because I think too many people would have wanted him to live up to what I did,” Xavier McDaniel said. “We’re totally two different people.”
Teammate Lesley Varner Jr., a freshman from Dallas, says McDaniel Jr. doesn’t bring up his father’s basketball career unless asked.
“Then he’ll up open up about it,” Varner said. “I’ve seen that one film where (McDaniel) is getting into it with Michael Jordan.”
Xavier McDaniel Jr. experienced his father’s basketball fame through YouTube and pictures on the Internet.
There’s the picture of Xavier McDaniel wrapping his hands around the neck of Wes Matthews. There’s the video of Xavier McDaniel jawing with Jordan. Plenty of dunks, plenty of baskets and plenty of bodies crashing.
He remembers first understanding his father’s place in the NBA at age 8. At that age, he understood why Shocker fans remember his father’s career.
“That’s a bad man,” McDaniel Jr. said. “He was really aggressive. His turnaround jump shot was killer. He was a force.”
The son savors the opportunity to learn from his famous father. He knows that experience is unique among college athletes.
“There’s some things that people just can’t teach you because they don’t have experience like he has,” he said. “When it comes to advice, he’s the best source.”