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Former BG star shines bright for Supersonics

It’s been eight years since former Bowling Green men’s basketball star Antonio Daniels was selected with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft, but now he is living up to his expectations.

Daniels found his niche this season with the Seattle Supersonics, who currently have the fourth best record in the NBA (48-21) and sit at the top of the Northwest Division standings. His role is to provide the spark off the bench for the Sonics and he has done just that.

He is averaging a career-high in both points (11.5 ppg) and rebounds (2.3 rpg) while dishing out 4.2 assists per game and is a strong candidate for the sixth man of the year award. It’s the first time Daniels has posted a double-digit scoring average in his career.

“This has been the most comfortable I’ve felt,” Daniels said. “I had some good stretches of games in San Antonio, but overall this has been my best year. I’ve been consistent on a nightly basis.”

As a team, the Sonics have sent a shockwave throughout the NBA this season, surprising critics who picked them to finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference after they went 37-45 last year. Not many changes were made in the off-season, but Daniels said that players’ roles are more defined this year, which has allowed the team to play more consistent.

“Last year we had a lot of different guards so the rotation wasn’t set in stone,” he said. “It was tough to get into that rhythm and get in that flow.”

Playing with a greater comfort level, Daniels has taken his game to a higher level out on the court. While he is the backup to second-year point guard Luke Ridnour, he enjoys his role coming off the bench.

“I know Luke’s the starting point guard and I’m coming off the bench to bring the (energy) to the game,” Daniels said. “In knowing that it makes you a lot more comfortable to just go out and play.”

Sonics head coach Nate McMillan said both Ridnour and Daniels work well together and are both essential in different times throughout the game. Even though Ridnour starts, Daniels receives extended playing time during the most crucial situations.

“Luke Ridnour brings speed and forces the tempo, where Antonio brings stability,” McMillan said. “(Daniels) understands how to control the game and we normally finish with him at the end of the game.”

The strong ball control of Daniels is among the best in the league. Last season, he led the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.89) and has been in the top five in that category for the last three years. But McMillan said at the start of the season he told Daniels to be more aggressive and take more chances on the offensive end of the floor.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over a lot and I think that is due to him not taking chances,” McMillan said. “So the challenge this year was for him to assert himself more and he’s done that.”

The improvements Daniels made this season also have a lot to do with his work ethic. Often times he is the first one to the gym and spends 3 1/2 hours working out before anyone else, which is something he learned from teammate Ray Allen.

“Ray Allen taught me how hard you have to work to be successful in this league,” Daniels said. “This year I’m working harder than ever, getting in the gym early, getting shots up before and after practice and it’s paying off.”

Being on a winning team is nothing new for Daniels. He has been on six playoff teams in eight seasons and won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, just his third year in the league. But Daniels said winning doesn’t come easy in the NBA.

“It’s hard to learn how to win in this league,” he said. “I’ve learned from a lot of different people along the way.”

Daniels said players such as Avery Johnson, Mario Elie, Steve Kerr, Terry Porter, Danny Ferry, Sean Elliot and David Robinson have helped turn him into a winner.

His playoff experience will come in handy this season since he is the only player on the Sonics with an NBA championship ring. Daniels said it’s now his responsibility to pass the knowledge of winning to the rest of his team.

“All of the guys that I’ve played with that had a winning tradition just kind of passed it on down to me,” Daniels said. “Now with me being in my eighth year, I’m trying to pass that (winning mentality) down to the younger guys that are on this team.”

The Sonics are one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 26 years. At the age of 30, Daniels is the oldest player on the team and is now looked at as one of the leaders.

“We have a very young team with not very much experience so I know a lot of guys look at the way I carry myself,” Daniels said. “When you have a young team like this that can be influenced very easily, it’s very important that you handle yourself in an appropriate manner.”

But if it weren’t for former teammate Avery Johnson, who is now the interim head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Daniels might not have the same approach to not only basketball but life in general. After his rookie season with the Vancouver Grizzlies, Daniels was traded to San Antonio. Right away Johnson stepped in and took Daniels under his wing, helping him become the person he is today.

“Avery’s been my biggest mentor since I’ve been in the league by far,” Daniels said. “For the four years I was in San Antonio, he really looked out for me and taught me a lot of different things: about how to be professional, how to be a family man and how to handle the NBA life.”

Daniels said he is fortunate to be playing basketball as a career, especially playing for one of the best teams in the NBA.

“I’m a very blessed young man,” he said. “I get to get up every day and do something that I love to do and not very many people can say that.”

It’s safe to say that Daniels has accomplished a lot in his eight-year career. But he still is hungry for another taste of an NBA title.

“There is no better feeling than to win an NBA championship,” Daniels said. “To be the last team standing and just to have the camaraderie that you have from your teammates is something special.”

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