For Daniels, USBL gives him another chance--one game at a time

June 23, 1991|By Stan Hochman | Stan Hochman,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Lloyd Daniels disappeared Wednesday night, vanished, poof, abracadabra, which probably explains why his friends like to use the word "magic" when they're describing the way Daniels used to play basketball.

"His strength," said Miami Tropics coach Eric Dennis, "is his eyesight. He sees the floor and will find the open people.

"I can see how people compared him to Magic. What he doesn't have yet is Magic's competitiveness."

Daniels is 23, recovering from a very bad case of lead poisoning. Stopped three bullets in a street-corner shootout.

"Some guy said he owed him $8," explained Kevin Barry, who runs a shelter called "Angels by the Sea" in Brooklyn and has sheltered Daniels in recent years.

"He lost five pints of blood. Weighed 168 in the intensive-care unit. Now he's 220 and strong. This is the first step back."

This is the USBL, a summer league for wannabe Magics and Michaels and Kenny Paynes. The undefeated Spirit against the visiting Miami Tropics, at Holy Family College.

Daniels lured a fistful of media because he was a New York playground legend, a high school butterfly floating to four different schools, a Nevada-Las Vegas recruit with the recruiting coach for a guardian and third-grade reading skills, nabbed in a crack cocaine bust before he could ever play a minute for Jerry Tarkanian, bouncing from New Zealand to the CBA, through drug rehab, past the gunshot damage, to still another chance to resemble the myth.

"Every time he's hounded by questions about drugs and bullets," whispered his agent, Tom Rome, "it's another obstacle.

"One of the things Lloyd needs to do is shrink the legend to human proportions and just be a basketball player."

Wednesday night, Daniels missed a lot of open shots. Went 4-for-15, playing 36 baffling minutes.

There was nothing Magical about his performance. Nothing magical either, except for the invisible matador's cape he waved on defense.

"There's no doubt in my mind," said Sixers assistant general manager Bob Weinhauer, "Lloyd Daniels knows the game. He's an intuitive player.

"He appears to be a player who knows what to do, but his body won't allow him to respond. He doesn't have a live body.

"He's had a tough career and is now being given another chance, an opportunity to move beyond this level.

"I didn't see a great deal of overall effort. And no effort on the defensive end.

"I'm not saying he can't play defense. But at some point you must step up and prove, not only to yourself, but to others, that you really want it.

"He has a body that responds as if he doesn't have any gas left in him."

An empty gas tank makes the most noise, but Daniels was semi-silent after the Spirit held off a Tropic rally to win, 124-117.

Guns, roses, Runnin' Rebels, anything older than three hours was off limits.

"I did the best I could," Daniels said when asked to evaluate his performance. "I could have did a lot more better.

"I'm still working hard to get in shape. I keep running every day. In August, I should be in good shape."

In August, the USBL season will be over. What then?

"All I'm thinking about is playing in the USBL," he answered, "take one game at a time."

One day at a time, that is the credo of an ex-junkie. The USBL authorizes random drug testing, one strike and you're out.

Some other New York playground wizards have survived the mean streets to make it to the NBA.

"It's not frustrating," Daniels said. "I can't worry about nobody else. I don't dwell on what anybody else is doing. I can't dwell on whatever happened in the past."

Any day now, there will be more questions for Daniels to duck. The NCAA will decide on a penalty for 29 alleged violations at UNLV, with six of those involving the recruiting of Daniels.

The small print in Tarkanian's contract permits the school to fire the towel-chewing coach if a major violation is discovered.

That would be something, the Shark blown out of the water by a guy who never played a minute at UNLV, a playground legend who could outrun everything but a speeding bullet, who could snuff everything but a thirst for drugs.

Mark Warkentein, who recruited Daniels, then became his guardian, is leaving UNLV, now that the school's response to the investigation has been filed.

"From 1976 through '88 I was recruiting coordinator at several schools, including UNLV," Warkentein said by phone. "I didn't see anybody for that decade who was more talented than Daniels, and I saw 'em all.

"He was, (A) a great player; (B) the admissions office did not have any problem with him; and (C) coach Tarkanian wanted him.

"I don't set the admission standards. Great player, Shark wanted him, I didn't have to think about that one a long time.

"You get into the generic question, should guys like this be in college? That's not for me to determine.

"He was not admitted in any special manner. He came in through the front door."

And if the front door had a sign on it, could Daniels have read it?

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