Dug McDaniel is really, really fast.
Junior center Hunter Dickinson called him, “One of the fastest players in the country,” after the Michigan men’s basketball team’s win over Penn State on Jan. 4, and the eye test backs that up. One moment, McDaniel is a full court away from the basket. Then, in a flash, the freshman guard is high-fiving fans courtside after a coast-to-coast layup that beat a halftime buzzer.
But no matter how rapid, he’s still a freshman who was suddenly thrust into a starting point guard role after graduate guard Jaelin Llewellyn’s season-ending ACL injury. Sure, he’d like to settle into his new job as quickly as he can move — but for someone with his speed, that’s impossible.
To learn the ropes, he’s learning to harness his quickness and utilize it when needed. It’s helping the speedster keep pace with the game.
“The game has definitely been slowing down for me as I get more minutes and more experience out there,” McDaniel said after beating the Nittany Lions.
Indeed, it’s that game experience — when he’s on the clock — where McDaniel is figuring out the ins-and-outs of catalyzing an offense at the college level. That comes with a learning curve no matter how skilled the player is. A balanced offense takes patience. Sure, there are times to run up and down the floor, but being able to manage the shot clock and break down a defense is just as important.
And McDaniel’s growing patience and ability to slow the game down is starting to show.
In the Wolverines’ win over Penn State, McDaniel bottled his lightning with the game on the line, flashing it just when needed for the dagger. Up three with a little over a minute left, he calmly controlled the ball and let the shot clock drain before coming off a Dickinson screen and quickly speeding up, floating in a runner to put the game out of reach for the Nittany Lions.
“The biggest thing that I’ve seen (McDaniel) improve is just picking his spots on when to be fast and when to slow down,” Dickinson said. “… We’re gonna use (his) speed to our advantage. … So he’s doing a really good job of picking those spots and really being a floor leader out there for us.”
Even before Llewellyn’s injury, McDaniel played significant minutes at guard each game. He flashed potential in managing plays, but now he’s tasked with helping to manage games. Learning how to do that doesn’t just mean new responsibilities come game time, but behind the scenes as well.
McDaniel has changed his day-to-day approach, and it all comes with the territory of transitioning to his new role.
“(McDaniel’s shown) better practice habits,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said Jan. 6. “… I thought in the summer, he was really interested in playing, and in this program you really need to be interested in practicing.”
That shift in practice habits is quickly translating. Gone are McDaniel’s days of being known just as an electric playmaker, a slashing spark plug who can quickly create space. Now, he’s growing into a leader and facilitator on the floor for Michigan.
Both his growth in his new role and need for further development were on full display in East Lansing. In the Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State, McDaniel spent much of the first half on the bench with foul trouble. When asked about his offense waking up as the second half wore on, Michigan coach Juwan Howard credited “decision makers” like McDaniel getting back in the game.
Clearly, McDaniel is being called to do more than electrify the floor, he’s being called to harness his skillset into a leadership position on it. And it’s a call he’s embracing.
“I just can never be comfortable, I’m always hungry, always ready to take on the next task,” McDaniel said. “And it shows, I come out and play with a lot of emotion.”
McDaniel’s steady growth radiates in how he plays. He hasn’t been perfect – he’s just a freshman after all — but his confidence and emotion on the floor are evident each game. And as he takes on his new role, he’s figuring out how and when to use his blazing speed to slow the game down.
Because Dug McDaniel is really fast, and he’s learning how to harness that speed to lead Michigan.