Homecoming fun for Daniels

December 01, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON -- Going back home to play in front of family and friends could put extra pressure on a player to perform his best.

Kentucky's Erik Daniels, though, takes a different approach to UK's annual game in Cincinnati, his hometown. He sees it not only as a chance to see familiar faces, but also to have fun.

"I just try to play hard and put on a show for all the fans, not just my family," said Daniels. "I don't let it pressure me or anything like that. It's not like I have to score 40 points for us to win."

Daniels' final homecoming game will be tonight when No. 10 Kentucky (2-0) faces Marshall in the U.S. Bank Arena.

The senior forward had 14 points and six rebounds in Kentucky's win over Ohio University in Cincinnati last year. However, his best performance came his freshman season when he had 19 points against Jacksonville State.


That was the same night his mother showed up at the arena with a sign that made sure everyone knew Erik Daniels was her son.

"That was a fun game for me," Daniels said. "It's probably one of the best games I've had since I've been here.

"There might be more signs for this game, too. My mother has sold over 300 tickets herself for the game. She's making sure there will be a lot of people there, and I'm looking forward to showing everyone, including those who never thought I would do this well in college, that I can play a little bit."

Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins knows Daniels appreciates the chance to play in his hometown and doesn't think it is a coincidence that he usually plays well in the Cats' annual game in Cincinnati.

"I know I would like to go back home and play in my hometown. Any player would," Hawkins said. "It's good for him. All his family and friends get a chance to see him play. His parents are at every home game, but some of his buddies from high school will get to see him, too.

"His mother loves UK basketball. She loves all of us, but she especially loves her Erik. We call him the mama's boy because of that."

He seems to be thriving at center

Daniels certainly has not played like a "mama's boy" the last two years. He's averaging 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this year and seems to be thriving while playing center this year instead of power forward like he did last season.

"We are playing at such a fun pace," Daniels said. "We are getting up and down the floor, getting a lot of 3-point shots. That leaves the middle open for me.

"Our quickness is such a big factor. We can all run the floor and everybody is a good passer. We know where everybody will be and that gives us a big advantage."

Marshall (1-1) is coming off an 85-71 victory over Morehead Saturday. Marvin Black led the Thundering Herd with 16 points, including 8-for-10 shooting from the foul line, and 11 rebounds in the victory. Black is one of three returning starters off last year's team that tied for third place in the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division. He was limited to two points and only 17 minutes of play in the season-opening loss to North Carolina-Wilmington because of a hamstring injury.

Marshall coach Ron Jirsa was an assistant under Tubby Smith at both Tulsa and Georgia. He took over as head coach at Georgia when Smith came to Kentucky in 1997. He was fired after two seasons and spent the next four years as an assistant at Dayton before coming to Marshall this year.

"It's never easy playing against one of your friends," Smith said.

Smith's Cats beat Tennessee Tech, coached by Mike Sutton, another former Smith assistant, Friday. He's also played Tulane and coach Shawn Finney, another former aide, in recent years.

"They did not work for me. We worked together and they were all responsible for what we've been able to accomplish," Smith said. "They know how much I love them, but all is fair in love and war."

That's why Smith's players insist there is no chance they'll overlook Marshall even though marquee games are coming up with UCLA, Michigan State, Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina.

"We don't take anything for granted," Hayes said. "We learn from each game, move on and try to play even better the next time out. Marshall is the next team we play and the next time we can improve. No way will we let up."

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