Family history can be a powerful motivator, and when it comes to basketball, 16-year-old Xavier McDaniel has plenty of inspiration.
McDaniel, a junior guard/forward at Hammond, pushes himself to excel in part because of the achievements of the McDaniels before him.
“It’s more like an inspiration to get to that level. It’s inspiring to me, to see what they have accomplished and know that it’s possible for me,” he said.
Xavier’s father, for whom he is named, is the storied A.C. Flora alumnus affectionately dubbed X-Man. The elder McDaniel was a college All-American, 1985 No. 4 NBA draft pick and NBA All-Star veteran.
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Xavier’s sister, Xylina McDaniel, won two state championships at Spring Valley, and was a McDonald’s All-American before being selected the ACC Rookie of the Year at North Carolina this past season.
Xavier McDaniel has been trying to measure up to them for most of his life.
As a young boy, Xavier was the smallest in his class and his family.
He said it toughened him up, but it also meant he started playing as a guard, and set him on a course different from his father.
“He used to tell me, ‘I’m never gonna get tall.’ I’d tell him, ‘Look man, it’s going to happen, I just don’t know when,’ ” the elder McDaniel said. “And then one day, he was taller than his older sister, then he was taller than Xylina, and now he’s looking me in the eye.”
He thinks his son might grow a few inches and top out around 6-foot-7. Whether the boy surpasses him in stature, Xavier McDaniel knew the moment his son stepped on the court the measuring up would begin.
“I told them all, they’re always going to be compared to me, regardless if there are no similarities, whether they like it or not,” McDaniel said.
The comparisons are intensified for Xavier because “he’s a boy and they expect for him to have the athletic ability that I had, the jumping ability that I had.”
But McDaniel did not try to mold his son in his image. Rather, both McDaniel and Hammond coach Mark McClam have made it a point to support Xavier’s individual game.
“I trained my kids very different from me. And I don’t even work with (Xavier) in the post. I haven’t taught him that aggression that I had,” McDaniel said.
“I understand, as a son, you can’t not feel an internal drive to try to match up to the father,” McClam said, “but I have tried to put no pressure on him, except to be the best player he can be, regardless of who his father and his sister are.”
Like his sister, Xavier wears the No. 34 for his father, and he does not shy from the weight of being the X-Man’s son.
“I guess people expect for me to be just like him, or maybe better. I’m just trying to live up to those expectations,” Xavier said.
But he will do it in his own way.
Because Xavier McDaniel is quite different from his father, on the court and off, the elder McDaniel said.
Xavier McDaniel is affable but quiet; his father is gregarious. Xavier is a finesse player, while his father was a post player whose fiery aggression got him kicked off the court more than a few times.
“I’ve seen him go out there and try to be a beast, yelling and banging people around, and it’s just not him,” McClam said. “I said, ‘You don’t need to do that. Smile at people after you dunk on them, and be yourself out there.’
“I feel like it’s my job to let him blossom and be himself,” McClam said.
Xavier averages 9.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the 14-4 Skyhawks, and has the attention of several mid-major college programs. And he has room to grow.
“He’s starting to mature and come into his own. He knows that we have to continue to get tougher, faster and stronger to become extraordinary instead of just ordinary, and he works hard at that,” said Xavier’s personal trainer, Danny Samuel.
“I figure there’s a lot of pressure on him every time he comes to play. But we’re just working on maximizing his potential,” Samuel said.
That is what Xavier said will amount to excellence for him.
“I’m going to succeed by playing my game, giving it my all when I’m out there,” Xavier said.
So although his path through basketball and life might one day parallel his father’s, or his sister’s, Xavier McDaniel will not walk in the big shoes left by “X-Man.”
He might share his father’s name, but he has his own shoes.