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LIKE FATHER AND MOTHER, LIKE SON; MCDANIELS LEARNS FROM HIS PARENTS.

Byline: Lee Barnathan Daily News Staff Writer

When Eskias McDaniels blocks a shot or shoots a basket, people think, that's Jim McDaniels' kid.

When his Valencia High teachers comment on how polite McDaniels is, how he never talks back and always respects his elders, they say that's Almaze McDaniels' child.

There's no doubt who has the most influence on this 16-year-old. On the basketball court, McDaniels is like his father, a former collegiate and NBA star. Off the court, his Ethiopian mother raised him to be proud of his heritage.

Of course, it's the basketball that gets the 6-5 McDaniels noticed. He's averaging about 12 points a game for the 18-5, 5-2 Vikings.

He certainly has the genes. His father helped Western Kentucky reach the NCAA Final Four in 1971. Then it was on to a eight-year professional career with the ABA's Buffalo Braves, Carolina Cougars and the NBA's Lakers and Sonics. He also played two years in Italy.

Eskias wasn't born until after Jim's career ended, but the father passed the love of the game to the son. When Eskias was 3 and growing up in Burbank, Jim took him to Olive Park and let him chase loose balls.

Once, the 7-0 Jim lifted his son to the basket and let him drop the ball through the hoop. The son held onto the rim and didn't want to come down. Jim knew then his son was destined to play.

``I took him to the park Saturday mornings,'' said Jim, now divorced from Almaze and living in Bowling Green, Ky. ``I'd ask him, `Do you see any other kids out here?' He'd say, `No, Daddy.' I said, `This is what it takes. You have to want it more than anything else.' ''

The son heard his father's words. When he was 5, his father picked him up from school and found little Eskias by himself shooting baskets into a smaller hoop.

``It touched my heart,'' Jim said.

From that point on, the two shared basketball. They watched tapes of his father. They watched games live. They went out and shot around. In each case, Jim instructed his son on the fundamentals and the strategy.

``I want to follow in his footsteps,'' Eskias said. ``He's a great player and I love basketball.''

The work paid off. Valencia coach Gary Spindt, who knew of Jim McDaniels, put Eskias on the varsity as a freshman. Although McDaniels struggled, and Spindt wondered if he had made the right decision, McDaniels handled the pressure well and continued to improve.

The turning point in Spindt's mind came in a late-season game against Canyon. McDaniels answered several Canyon 3-pointers with 3-pointers of his own.

This season, McDaniels has impressed his coach with his shot blocking. Against Canyon last week, McDaniels came from the help side to swat away a shot with 3 seconds to play, sealing the Vikings' victory.

``He's had a couple of games where he's had some big blocks,'' Spindt said, ``and the thing is they don't go out of bounds. He keeps them in. He has terrific timing. It reminds me of a hunter. He's got great timing. He waits and flicks it away like a stalker.''

McDaniels doesn't shout as he blocks a shot. He's very quiet and unassuming, which is exactly how Almaze likes it.

It is the Ethiopian way, she said, to not talk back to one's elders. When an authority figure speaks to you, you look down and say nothing. You don't walk away until you are told to.

``It's a sign of respect,'' Almaze said. ``You acknowledge what they say. You can't tell an American this.''

It's also hard to convince Americans that not all Ethiopians starve. Eskias' grandfather was a governor in the capital of Addis Ababa.

Eskias has been to Ethiopia once, in 1985 when he was a baby. Although his memories are scarce, he said he remembers large houses and green grass and children running around in ripped clothes.

``There aren't a lot of people (he sees) who are Ethiopian,'' McDaniels said. ``I feel a special bond with them.''

So special that he has done reports on the country and spoken the language, Amharin, when his grandmother visits twice a year.

He would like to become the first Ethiopian-American basketball player, which would make both his parents proud.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Valencia High's Eskias McDaniels was taught to respect elders by his mother, basketball by his father.

Hans Gutknecht/Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 7, 1998
Words:745
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