NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Jaden McDaniels isn't much of a talker. When it comes to being recruited, his father prefers to keep it that way.
Will McDaniels said the most important piece of advice he got about the recruitment process was this credo: Right now is not the time just for you to be your son's dad. It's also time for you to be his bodyguard.
This is how it normally goes when a school wants to get involved with Jaden. A coach will acquire his number. They'll text first, usually, but eventually call. Jaden may or may not pick up. If he does, the conversation won't last long. As soon as a coach moves beyond common courtesies, Jaden will say something along the lines of, "No disrespect, but will you please call my dad?"
Will McDaniels doesn't want anything communicated differently to his son vs. what he hears from a coach and his staff. Will wants no elaborate pitches, no ulterior motives, no grandiose promises.
"I feel like, after the coach has made his introduction to my son, if you're talking to anything about this young man, who is 17 years old, who you want attending your university, then you need to be talking to his mom or his dad," Will McDaniels said. "People think because these kids can play basketball well that they're smart enough to have adult conversations, but they're really not. A lot of them can speak well and do different things, but they're still kids."
Jaden, who stands approximately 6-foot-9 and is in the vicinity of 190 pounds, is an exceptional prospect in the Class of 2019 due to his stretch-4 potential that's blended from his ball-handling, high-release shooting stroke, nimble post defense and extending wingspan. His rise in the spring on the recruiting circuit, and continued ascension this July, has McDaniels rounding into form as a top-five player in 2019. Because of his pointy elbows, narrow waist, willowy legs and effortless shooting form, McDaniels' style of offense -- not his talent, merely his manner -- could be modestly likened to a young Kevin Durant. Former five-star prospect and lottery pick Jonathan Isaac is also a common comparison.
Jaden, who will turn 18 on Sept. 29, will be a senior this fall at Federal Way High School in Washington. Clint Parks, a skills trainer who's mentored NBA players Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Kuzma, said Jaden's work ethic is natural and also getting better. If it comes to his success in the short- or long-term, Jaden embraces the toil. He's also benefiting from personal training close to home with a trainer named Tim Manson, who's worked with Durant, Nate Robinson, Terrence Williams and many other top players to spend time in or come out of Seattle.
If McDaniels puts on 10-plus pounds of muscle weight and develops a reliable 3-point stroke by the time he's 19 years old, he could be the top pro prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. We're at least 23 months from that, though. The short-term goal is figuring out not just where to go to college, but where to officially visit before making a verbal commitment.
This pattern is common; the recruitment of Jaden is not. Coaches are finding a familial fortress around the kid.
"Some of these coaches forget that I've gone through this with my older son," Will McDaniels said of Jalen McDaniels, who plays for San Diego State. "That's why I'm the way I am. You have one of these big old colleges calling you and they're saying this, 'Hey we love your game and we want you to come to our school and once you get here you're going to start immediately.' Man, that's not true. I have had coaches tell me that. This has always been my answer: 'Thanks, Coach, we appreciate it, but we don't want you to give Jaden anything."
At this year's Nike Peach Jam, McDaniels was one of the standout talents, impressing coaches and scouting pundits even while playing short of expectations. (His team was knocked out in pool play.) Still, McDaniels showed flashes of being the top long-term prospect in his class. There's so much room for growth and the ceiling appears to be rising by the month.
In 21 games on the EYBL circuit this year, McDaniels averaged 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 blocks. He shot 48.3 percent from the field and 79.2 percent from the foul line. Watch him for five or six possessions and the skill/NBA-prototype potential is perspicuous. At times, McDaniels has been allowed to run point on a team not short on distributing guards.
Peach Jam catalyzed McDaniels' status not just as a top-five recruit -- and player in contention for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2019 -- but as someone getting intrigue nationally from the biggest of schools.
Arizona, Arizona State, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, San Diego State, Texas, UCLA and Washington all have shown interest, and from what I could tell, were at all of McDaniels' games at Peach Jam. Most have offered scholarships.
Many are yet to have a real conversation with the kid.
Here's what McDaniels told the media in North Augusta last week.
How much communication have you personally had with Duke? My dad mostly talks to them. I've talked to an assistant, like we text back and forth every once in a while but my dad is mostly on the phone and stuff with them.
Has your dad had the opportunity to talk to Coach K yet? I don't know yet, he hasn't told me much about it.
Will McDaniels has reasons for his trust issues with some of the college basketball coaching fraternity. Mostly he's looking out for the well-being of his youngest son. He doesn't want disillusionment to play into the recruiting process, as it so often can and does with recruits labeled with five stars, or no stars, next to their name.
"Things coaches tell you to buy you in," he said. "I'm not saying every coach is like that, because they're not, but there is some that are. But this is what works for us. I appreciate coaches offering and wanting our son. I'm going to be dad. I'm going to protect my son."
His approach stems from being involved in the recruiting cycle for five years now. Jalen McDaniels' process in eventually getting to San Diego State included a lot of unnecessary noise and mixed signals, his dad said. Ultimately, before Jalen took an official visit to SDSU, the University of Washington -- hometown hopeful -- was the only other school to get a visit. Jalen, who was ranked 120th in the Class of 2016, wound up taking a redshirt freshman season at San Diego State.
"I was a little naive to a lot of the things that went on," Will McDaniels said of Jalen's recruiting experience. "Thinking back now, I know a lot of coaches knew that."
Will's safeguard approach comes in an era when one infamous basketball father, LaVar Ball, made weekly headlines for his outlandish claims and incessant braggadocio. But whereas Ball lorded over his sons' recruitments to UCLA and beyond, McDaniels doesn't seek the spotlight and isn't one to wear his ego on his sleeve. He's not boastful, he's mindful. Careful. Behind the scenes, Will McDaniels keeps a strict regimen as means to keep communication clear. For example, it's not against the rules for coaches to connect with parents at shoe-sponsored tournaments like the Peach Jam. But those courting Jaden were largely closed off during the biggest tournament of Jaden's life to date.
He wants his son to be a teenager, to enjoy adolescence ... as much as any 17-year-old who's bound to be a multimillionaire in probably two years' time can be.
"While I'm here and here supporting my son I don't even deal with these coaches," Will McDaniels said at Peach Jam. "I've learned that these coaches don't have any boundaries. They contact at all times of the night. They call me all day when I'm at work. It's just kind of like, gosh, guys, could you at least ... sometimes when I do answer the phone, I say, 'Can you please call me after 4?' I sometimes feel like it's common sense. Guys, you know I have a job. The calling, to be honest with you, I get calls, my phone is ringing at 11 o'clock and 12 o'clock at night. I understand what it's about. Everyone wants to talk about Jaden, but as his dad, I have to put some sort of control around the situation."
Will McDaniels works at Boeing as a mechanic, dealing with parts that keep commercial airplanes working safely. He's is at work by 5:30 each morning. Though he's not married to Jaden and Jalen's mother, the parents remain amicable and live within walking distance to each other so that their sons can spend time with both of them without complications.
Will McDaniels said his way shouldn't have to be the only way. It's what he's most comfortable with. Jaden seems to be fine with it as well; so often you'll see five-star players submerged in the recruiting process.
"I do it this way and I don't try to be rude about it to anyone," Will McDaniels said. "I think that you have to do it a certain type of way, whatever works for you and your family, because these coaches get into these kids' heads, pump them up, and tell them all these things that really aren't going to happen. So then the parent is left to deal with what the kid is dealing with. The kid might say, 'Mom, Dad, the coaches told me ...' that is another reason I don't allow the coaches to contact my son."
He also implores Jaden to resist constant use of social media, and to be careful what he tweets or shows to the public on digital sites. In many ways, this rising senior is still a mystery -- especially to the coaches trying to change their fortunes and future by winning his recruitment. Kentucky was his dream school once upon a time, years ago, because John Wall was McDaniels' favorite pro player growing up. During media availability at the Peach Jam, McDaniels said he no longer has a dream destination.
Jalen's commitment to San Diego State was a huge coup for that school. Some wonder if the brothers might try to team up. If that were to happen, it would come during Jalen's redshirt junior year.
One thing Will McDaniels did confirm about the recruiting process: When Jaden narrows his list to five schools for an official visit, those will be his only finalists. The family expects to have those decisions made in August. Will McDaniels wants transparency and honesty -- to the extent he can control it -- this time around. No school or coach has an edge because of history or prestige. It's not about the sell, it's about personal respect and trust. It's about boundaries.
The coaching staff that most effectively navigates that process is the one with the best chance of winning over McDaniels -- and his youngest son.