UK center plays like point guard

Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 12:42 a.m.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Erik Daniels sure looked like a point guard, zipping passes to open teammates and picking up four assists before Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt was eight minutes old.

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Kentucky's Erik Daniels can make plays like a point guard, but his focus this season has been to increase his strength and rebounding.


Daniels' play was noteworthy because the 6-foot-8 senior is UK's starting center.

''We tease him about that, too,'' said teammate Chuck Hayes. ''He's the only person who ever got recruited that went from a 1 or 2 to a 5-man (center). I don't know how he does it, I really don't, but the guy, he's got a good, positive thought on it.''

Daniels makes plays like a guard because he used to be one. That's the position he played during his senior year at high school in Cincinnati.

He was recruited by Kentucky with the hopes of filling a spot at either shooting guard or small forward.

He started at small forward last season as the Wildcats went 32-4 and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky lost two centers from that team, and although the Wildcats signed a pair of 7-foot freshmen, Daniels figured it would be his job as a senior to play in the post.

His focus this season has been to improve his strength - he's bulked up to 214 pounds - and improve his rebounding. The latter is of particular interest to his mother, Carmen.

''That's the only thing my mom tells me to do,'' said Daniels, who hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer Tuesday in Kentucky's 67-66 win at No. 20 Mississippi State. ''She always screams, 'Rebound! Rebound!' the whole game, so I've got to do that for her.''

Daniels is averaging 7.0 rebounds and 15.0 points for the fifth-ranked Wildcats (11-1, 2-0 SEC). Entering the season, he had career averages of 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

''Erik has always had the capability,'' Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins said. ''I think this year, he's getting more touches. We're going to him in the post. He's one of our first options down low. Plays are run for him and he's capitalizing on them.''

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said Daniels has made a conscious effort this season to improve his offensive rebounding.

''I think he's figured out that's the way he's going to score,'' Smith said. ''I think the matchups for him have been fairly even. We haven't played anyone overwhelmingly taller than he is.''

Not that it would bother Daniels.

''I really don't think about it anymore,'' he said. ''I just go out there and play. You're just trying to get victories out there.''

Daniels said his experience as a point guard has helped him become a more versatile post player.

''Every now and then, I have a matchup where I can go outside and take my man off the dribble. I've said that's made my game a lot better,'' Daniels said. ''I'm able to do all the things I did on the perimeter, but I'm able to do them in the post. I can see guys cutting to the basket. It just makes the offense run a lot better.''

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