Off-the-court distractions have made for a strange senior season for Federal Way's five-star prospect. Still, he has the Eagles in a strong position to win a state championship. But it's what Jaden McDaniels has the potential to do after high school that has basketball fans in a frenzy.
There’s a play that captures Jaden McDaniels perfectly.
How the Federal Way senior effortlessly handles obstacles, displays creative basketball skill that defies his 6-foot-11 frame and invokes so much noise despite being so quiet.
It happened on a fast break against Enumclaw in December. A defender covered McDaniels’ pass intended for teammate Tari Eason, leaving McDaniels airborne with the ball.
For most, when trapped midair at the three-point line, the play would’ve ended in a travel or turnover. But McDaniels?
The forward used the backboard, flicking the ball underhanded off it. In two steps he reached the hoop to catch the ball and score with a two-handed dunk.
“Jaden McDaniels is different,” tweeted Slam magazine’s high-school Twitter account in all caps. The clip of the play has 117,000 views.
“That wasn’t supposed to happen,” McDaniels said. “I just got stuck in the air, so I decided to just throw it off the backboard. If I missed, I miss. But if I make it … ”
Making it with flair has been the theme of McDaniels’ season despite hyper-exposure, his brother’s legal troubles and absence of his high-school coach, who was placed on administrative leave. McDaniels has emerged this season as a McDonald’s All-American and has Federal Way (23-2) in position to return to the Class 4A tournament championship game.
Will McDaniels and Angela Jackson thought they were prepared for a basketball season such as this.
The native Chicagoans met in Federal Way as young adults and talk of home helped form a bond. They decided to co-parent their two sons, living a basketball court’s distance from each other with Jalen, the oldest, and Jaden moving freely between the homes.
Will had been a cornerback on the football team at Thomas Jefferson High, and Angela ran track during high school in Chicago, so sports were going to be part of the boys’ lives. Basketball quickly became the favorite, and holidays, summers, and winters were filled with tournaments, practices and games.
Jalen, a 6-10 forward, led the Eagles to back-to-back state titles before graduating in 2016. The four-star recruit was rated by ESPN as among the top 50 players in the nation at his position as a senior. He signed with San Diego State. So the family was indoctrinated into the world of recruiting and hype.
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“But it’s been crazy for (Jaden),” Jackson said. “It was like overnight.”
While Jalen was shining as a senior, Jaden was a freshman on the varsity team averaging 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, shooting with his left hand because of a right-elbow injury. He worked with trainer Cartiea French-Toney, who is quick to note Jaden often had trouble getting up for morning workouts.
That changed as Jaden matured, and he often did more than French-Toney planned for daily workouts during the high-school offseason. McDaniels was the co-MVP of the NPSL Olympic Division last season, averaging 21.3 points, 10 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game. However, the notoriety was primarily on the West Coast.
Last July, he played the Elite Youth Basketball League circuit, which features top players such as five-star Washington commit Isaiah Stewart. Suiting up for Seattle Rotary Style with O’Dea senior Noah Williams and sophomore Paolo Banchero among his teammates, McDaniels was a breakout player. He was anointed a five-star recruit and rated the fifth-best player in the nation by 247Sports, sixth-best by ESPN.
McDaniels will announce his college choice after the season. His top choices: San Diego State, Washington, Texas, Kentucky and UCLA.
“He’s the future of basketball,” said Clint Parks, a California-based trainer who worked with Jaden and Jalen for a month in August. Parks also trained NBA players Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Kuzma with the brothers.
“It’s not just one thing,” Parks continued. “Jaden’s working on his complete game and is extremely skilled (in a frame) of someone who’s tall, athletic, can make plays off the dribble and shoot.”
But an attention-grabbing summer was overshadowed in the fall. News broke in October that brother Jalen was being sued for allegedly recording and sharing a 2016 video of him and a classmate having sex. Longtime Federal Way basketball coach Jerome Collins also was named in the suit. The school district in November placed Collins on administrative leave, where he remains, to conduct an investigation.
Jaden said he “doesn’t recall this happening,” and added that his parents have managed to shield him from the case to focus on school and basketball.
“It could’ve derailed them,” longtime assistant Eagles coach Yattah Reed said of the team and McDaniels. Reed is filling in for Collins. “It depends on what type of guys you have. It brought us closer together. And Jaden, he’s humble, but it’s a testament to what happens when you put the work in. He works hard, has never missed a practice and wants to play every minute because he loves the game so much.”
McDaniels’ dunk in December made ESPN’s SportsCenter, and a day later Federal Way participated in the Hoophall Classic in January, McDaniels was projected as the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NBA draft by ESPN.com.
Later that month came the McDonald’s All-American selection followed by McDaniels, who is averaging an NPSL-leading 23.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, scoring a school-record 51 points on senior night. He capped that career-high with a dunk.
“It wasn’t my best,” he quipped. “This is all of the stuff I’ve wanted since I was a kid watching videos of players like LeBron (James) in the McDonald’s game or K.D. (Kevin Durant). … I don’t know what I would be doing if I didn’t play basketball. When I wake up, I just want to go play (and) it amazes me people know me across the country for that.”