The 6-foot-4 post is a four-star recruit who is still relatively new to basketball. But her play is forcing plenty to take notice.
One of the “it” places to be on a winter Friday night in Seattle is a Metro League basketball game.
Fans often have to arrive two hours early just to get a seat in quaint high-school gyms. Historically, the draw is the boys varsity game. Along with coffee and planes, Seattle has gifted the world NBA stars.
Preceding the boys game is the girls game, which sometimes gets ignored. Then the tallest girl steals the ball on defense, dribbles with grace and speed down court, crosses over a defender and lays the ball into the hoop. An indifferent crowd wakes up and says “whoa” in unison and are hooked.
Metro League tournament
Wednesday at Seattle Pacific
Cleveland vs. Garfield, 5:30 p.m.
West Seattle vs. Rainier Beach, 8:30 p.m.
Garfield vs. Seattle Prep, 3:30 p.m.
Cleveland vs. West Seattle 7 p.m.
Friday at Seattle Pacific
Girls title game, 5:45 p.m.
Boys title game, 8 p.m.
“I call that a pick six, like in football,” Garfield girls coach Lee Adams said of the play made by Dalayah Daniels against Rainier Beach last month. “She’ll make some moves where I’ll look at my coaching staff and just go, ‘Did I just see that?’ Then, of course, there are also some times where she makes plays that make me (groan).”
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Daniels is a four-star post, according to multiple recruiting websites, who only started playing basketball four years ago. In a blink, the sophomore became a versatile 6-foot-4 baller who is averaging a double-double for the Bulldogs.
The talent should be expected. Her father, Dale Daniels, helped Garfield win a 1974 boys basketball state title. But Dalayah’s parents never forced her into sports.
Nicknamed “Lay-Lay,” the youngest of eight dabbled in soccer and track and field, where she had the speed to be competitive. The social aspect of being on a team drew her to basketball as a sixth-grader.
“I hated basketball because I was really scared because the crowds were really big,” said Daniels, who attended her siblings’ high-school games. “I didn’t like that … but when I started playing at St. George (School in Seattle), it was like ‘Oh, I’m kind of good, but not really.’
“I’m not going to say I love the game because I haven’t played that long. But I’m starting to develop that. I really enjoy it.”
Doing drills at camps against posts such as JaQuaya Miller, a 6-3 junior who led Kentridge to the Class 4A girls state title last year, sparked Daniels’ drive to improve her game. Last summer’s AAU circuit was a breakout.
Matched up against McDonald’s All-American Amira Collins, who’s headed to Tennessee, and college-bound posts Valencia Myers (Florida State), Kari Niblack (West Virginia) and Uchenna Nwoke (Duke) at tournaments in Atlanta, Daniels held her own.
“Amira, who’s bigger and a little bit stronger, was going at Lay-Lay’s throat,” said Chris Hansen, manager of ProspectsNation.com. “Amira was taking some shots and some cheap shots and (Daniels) kind of smiled, like ‘I know what’s going on here and I’m not going to let it get to me.’ You don’t handle yourself that way and then sprint down on the other end to make a play if you don’t love what you’re doing.
“I can see her evolution. Her finding the physicality and the confidence has put her status in the stratosphere on the recruiting level. Everybody in the Pac-12 knows who she is. There’s not a Power-5 conference that doesn’t have multiple schools that aren’t aware of who she is and making plans to see her play. And Lay-Lay is embracing it.”
Daniels played her freshman season at Rainier Beach while wait-listed to attend Garfield, in accordance to Seattle Public Schools’ open enrollment policies, and was able to transfer to Garfield the second semester of her freshman school year. She split time living with her mother in Auburn and father in Seattle, his being her permanent address. This year Daniels decided to live full-time with her father, who helps with her skill work.
Daniels is averaging 14.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. She’s helped by Niveya Henley, who adds a 13.2 scoring average. Junior wing Samaiyah Tolliver helps run the offense, averaging 13.2 points and 3.2 assists per game.
A three-point loss to Seattle Prep in December and 10-point loss to West Seattle in January were Garfield’s stumbles in league play. The Bulldogs (16-4) are a strong contender for the Class 3A state title run, which would be a first since 2005.
“Sometimes we’re playing really well together, but not hard the whole time, or we’re playing hard but not necessarily together, or we’ll do both for two quarters,” said Adams, who’s in his second season at Garfield and led Holy Names to a state title in 2011. “I always tell them I want my whole dollar and I haven’t gotten my dollar, yet. We need consistency. If we get that, all of the other stuff will work itself out.”
Daniels adjusted to those electric Metro Friday nights and wants to entertain the packed crowds with her team, just like the boys.
“I believe if you’re going to do something, you should try to excel at it,” she said. “So, I’m trying to grasp everything that I can right now because I want to go far with basketball.”