Carmen Daniels loves UK and its players

January 26, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Seldom does Carmen Daniels miss watching the University of Kentucky play basketball, but often she misses seeing how games end.

"I just get nervous. I just want them to always win and know how the fans can be a little hard on them if they don't win," said Daniels. "That's why sometimes at Rupp Arena I just go into the corner when the game gets too close at the end. Sometimes I'll take a peek at the scoreboard, or I will just listen to the crowd to see how the game goes."

She didn't even get to see her son, UK senior forward Erik Daniels, hit the game-winning shot at Mississippi State on ESPN recently.

"I couldn't watch the last two minutes. I just went and started cleaning my bathroom until I heard my husband scream, and then I ran in and saw what happened," Daniels said.


While she loves watching her son play, she's just as passionate about the other Wildcats. Since she lives in Cincinnati and has a much easier time getting to Lexington than the parents of some other players, she admits she likes to "mother" her son's teammates.

"That's just the type of person she is," Erik Daniels said. "She is a very supportive, loving person. She wants to take care of everybody."

The players don't mind.

"She's a true No. 1 fan," Kentucky junior Chuck Hayes said. "If there was such a thing as a team mom, it would be Erik's mother. She's just so loving and down to earth. She's always there for you.

"She keeps in touch with my mother (in California) through e-mails. She calls me her second son and will always ask me about my family. And if I just need a hug, she's always there."

Hawkins learned as a freshman how caring she could be

Senior Cliff Hawkins was Erik Daniels' roommate their first year at UK. That's when he learned how caring Carmen Daniels could be.

"If his parents came down to wash his clothes and if I had a load of clothes, they would just wash mine, too," Hawkins, who is from Virginia, said. "When she would cook, she would also bring enough for me to eat. That was huge for me and really made my first year a lot easier.

"I love her. Wherever we are at, you know you usually are going to see a familiar face because she's always there. She is Erik's number one fan, but she loves us all. She treats me just like I was her son."

Carmen Daniels said she never considered not doing Hawkins' laundry or bringing him food.

"He was one of my own. He just stuck his clothes right in there," she laughed and said. "He's close to all of us. But I treat them all like an extended family.

"I think Erik really enjoys the fact that we get to come to almost all of his games. You can see when the other players' parents get here how excited they are. When their parents aren't here, I try to give them an extra hug, especially Chuck and Cliff. I give them an extra hug, wish them good luck and tell them to keep their grades up. It's all things I would tell my own son because I think of them like they are my sons."

Freshman Lukasz Obrzut of Poland found that out quickly after he arrived in Lexington.

"He's right next door to Erik. One day when we came down to bring Erik some stuff, I asked Woo how he felt about being so far from home. He told me that he had been away since he was 15 and his mom never got a chance to see him play," Carmen Daniels said. "That really touched me. I told him I would be his mom at UK, and he gave me a big hug. I gave him a smile and hug. That was an international language we both understood."

"Erik's mother is very nice. She always takes care of me," Obrzut said. "She tells me she is looking for me all the time in games. It's really nice to know she is thinking about me. I appreciate that. I am not a hard kid to take care of. I know how to take care of myself, but it's nice to know you have someone who cares and is willing to help when you need it."

Watching her son play tests her nerves

Carmen Daniels has always gotten nervous watching her son play. She played volleyball in high school and was a cheerleader while her husband, Joe, played football, basketball and baseball. Still, watching her son play, especially at UK, has tested her nerves.

"I think it is even harder this year because I know he wants to continue playing at the next level," she said. "I know he's also really trying to please coach (Tubby) Smith. This year there has been a lot more pressure on him, and I probably feel that more than him."

Perhaps that's why at most games she's as active as her son, who averages 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds for Kentucky going into today's game at Notre Dame. She spends most of the game standing, often waving pompoms. She wears a Kentucky jersey with her son's number that says "E. Diddy" on the back. From start to finish she normally shouts encouragement to her son with her favorite words being "smile" and "rebound" when she's talking to her son.

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