Bernie Bickerstaff, the first-year coach of the Seattle SuperSonics, was discussing the merits of rookie forward Xavier McDaniel recently with Dallas Coach Dick Motta, who was Bickerstaff’s boss in Washington.
“Bernie loves the guy,” Motta said. “When he gets through talking he tells me, ‘You’d love to coach this one.’ From what I’ve seen and heard, I like McDaniel a lot.”
McDaniel, a 6-8, 205-pounder from Wichita State, last year became the first player in National Collegiate Athletic Association history to lead the nation in scoring (27.2 points per game) and rebounding (14.8) in the same season.
“I saw him play as a sophomore and I’ve seen his films,” said Motta, whose Mavericks (2-5) will try to snap a three-game losing streak Tuesday night against the SuperSonics (2-6) in Seattle Coliseum. “He really looks good. He’s an animal. He’s a Buck Williams-type. He’s a relentless rebounder.”
McDaniel, who has started Seattle’s last six games, is averaging 8.5 rebounds. Thirty-two of his 68 rebounds this season have come off the offensive board. He’s also averaging 17.3 points, second on the team behind Tom Chambers (18.5).
“He’s a physical player,” Bickerstaff said. “Where he can help us is on the boards--where we need help--but he’s got to learn the ropes. He’s an exciting player. He’s got the talent, and his work ethic is good. He’s got a chance to be a star.”
In a draft loaded with 7-footers, McDaniel was the fourth player selected. He was the first draftee in his class who wasn’t projected as either a center or power forward.
“Just being drafted in the first round, being one of the first players taken, that was a blessing right there,” said McDaniel, who joined the ranks of Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird by becoming the third Missouri Valley Conference player with 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. “There were a lot of good centers in the draft. Talking to my agents, they figured I’d be anywhere from (No.) 1 to 7. They even thought I might go third for a while. It just really depended on what the team needed. I guess if Seattle had gotten the chance to get Patrick (Ewing), they would have done that. But it wasn’t the case, so they took me. I’m very happy with the decision, and I think they’re very happy with the decision.”
Speculation was that the SuperSonics might choose 6-10 Detlef Schrempf, who twice won All-Conference honors at the University of Washington. The Mavericks eventually made Schrempf the eighth player taken in the draft.
“I didn’t know Seattle would take me,” McDaniel said. “They just let me know that they were interested. A lot of the press was calling and saying it was going to be between me and Detlef Schrempf, but Seattle never really said until draft day. And that’s when I realized I was going to be a Sonic, when the commissioner (David Stern) announced my name.”
Seattle’s plan was to rebuild its frontline around veteran center Jack Sikma, who missed the final 14 games last year because of a torn ligament in his left ring finger, 6-11 Tim McCormick and McDaniel. But holdouts by Danny Vranes and Chambers, plus McCormick’s knee injury, delayed the plan. McCormick, who began the season on the injured list, has started the last three games.
“Starting didn’t really matter,” McDaniel said. “If you’re a team player, you’re a team player. It all boils down to being unselfish with the basketball and doing what the team needs to win and not griping about starting and not starting. Everyone is going to get their minutes, so why gripe about it? I can fit into either role. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
McDaniel scored 16 points, collected seven rebounds (four at the offensive end) and made two steals in 22 playing minutes Oct. 26 when the SuperSonics lost at Dallas, 101-95, in the season-opening game. That was the first of 82 regular-season games for McDaniel, who played 117 during his college career.
“This is a job. It’s more games,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to take even more concentration to get your mind prepared for 82 games, and if we make the playoffs, even more games. What I’ve got to do is get my mind right and try to take care of my body and just develop the mental attitude that we’ve got to win this game. And I’ve got to play as hard as I can for us to win.”
McDaniel, New York’s Ewing, Sacramento’s Joe Kleine, Utah’s Karl Malone, Ed Pinckney of Phoenix and Schrempf have been among the most visible rookies so far.
“Now that I’m on a different level and no longer on the college scene, where everyone was focusing on what I do, everyone is just as good as me,” McDaniel said. “It’s fun, but it’s tough. It’s a lot tougher than college. Once you got that name, people were afraid of you. Now, I’m an unproven rookie and I’ve got to go up against the likes of Mark Aguirre and Jay Vincent, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, those people. That’s going to be tough right there for me. All I can do is just work hard and just keep going and maybe I might get some good results.”
As the Knicks are learning with Ewing and as Houston learned first with Ralph Sampson and then Akeem Olajuwon, rebuilding isn’t an instant process. Until last season, the SuperSonics had been in the playoffs six times in seven years.
“One guy isn’t going to change anything,” McDaniel said. “You look at all the teams. They’ve got more than one secret weapon. What we’ve got to do is try and build a dynasty and try to compete with these other teams.”