Washington Huskies

In five-star recruits Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart, UW basketball found ‘right fits’

McDaniels named The News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year

Federal Way's Jaden McDaniels is The News Tribune's 2019 All-Area Player of the Year
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Federal Way's Jaden McDaniels is The News Tribune's 2019 All-Area Player of the Year

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, just as Washington head coach Mike Hopkins was considering heading to bed, Jaden McDaniels decided to make an announcement.

Then, with a 40-second Instagram video and a tweet, McDaniels brought his often secretive recruitment to a close by joining a UW class that already featured five-star center Isaiah Stewart, four-star shooting guard RaeQuan Battle and three-star point guard Marcus Tsohonis.

While Stewart, Battle and Tsohonis previously signed national letters of intent, McDaniels, a five-star forward out of Federal Way, made his decision after the end of the basketball signing period. He instead signed a financial aid agreement, which guarantees McDaniels a scholarship but doesn’t bind him to UW.

“(McDaniels) is big, he can shoot it, he can dribble it, he’s skilled,” Hopkins said. “The great thing about him is he’s a great player that plays the right way. You know, if a guy’s open he makes the pass. He rebounds. He blocks shots. He brings just a winning mentality and most importantly, he’s got an incredible work ethic.”

With the addition of McDaniels, the Huskies’ 2019 class moved up in the rankings. Rivals (No. 7) and 247Sports (No. 10) consider UW to have a top-10 class nationally. They rank the Huskies third in the Pac-12 behind Arizona and USC, respectively.

Before McDaniels, UW’s class still ranked among the top 20 in the country. Now, though, Hopkins and his staff have arguably pieced together the best class in school history. It’s the first time the Huskies have signed two top-10 players — McDaniels and Stewart — in the same class. Both are expected to be top-15 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.

But despite having two presumed one-and-done incoming freshmen, Hopkins said that isn’t the model for UW’s program.

“I think the biggest thing is you got to recruit the right fits, you got to recruit the right kids in terms of what we value,” Hopkins said. “Those values have to align and then you’re moving forward. In this case, we were really fortunate to have relationships — my staff, myself — with kids in this class that are one-and-done guys.”

In Stewart (6-9, 245) and McDaniels (6-9, 185), Hopkins found two players with the kind of size and length that will be a perfect fit in the Huskies’ 2-3 zone. They will also be vital to revamping UW’s offense, which will lose 80 percent of its scoring from last season, assuming Jaylen Nowell remains in the NBA Draft.

Along with the 2019 recruiting class, the Huskies will also add Kentucky transfer Quade Green — a former five-star point guard — at the start of the winter quarter and have a solid core of promising young talent returning.

“You hate for the main scoring options to be so young but (McDaniels) is a nice complement to what Isaiah Stewart brings as a kind of low-post, pound-it-in and score player,” said Rivals national basketball analyst Eric Bossi. “Jaden can kind of float around the perimeter some, make some shots and put it on a floor a bit.”

Because of his length and offensive skill, McDaniels has drawn comparisons — including from Hopkins — to Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, Bossi described Stewart as “just a monster.”

“The motor never stops running,” Bossi said. “He’s relentless and physical. He has great hands. He can score with either hand around the basket. He plays much bigger than his size because of the strength and long arms.

“He’s a little bit more explosive athletically than I think people realize and he’s done a lot to expand his game from being just a pure power player in the post. He can make some mid-range jump shots and stuff like that.”

Hopkins, too, stressed how well McDaniels and Stewart complement each other. While Stewart has expanded his range, he’s a primarily a major force around the basket and inside 15 feet. McDaniels brings more skill and finesse than power.

Stewart has already expanded his offensive game, Bossi said, but that’s a process that will continue with the Huskies. His biggest adjustment will be consistently facing players that equal his size. As for McDaniels, Bossi said it’s no secret he has to improve his strength, but he also needs to get more aggressive.

“Sometimes he’s got a little bit of a passive nature and can kind of defer,” Bossi said. “To be the type of talent that he is, he’s certainly going to have to ramp that (aggression) up a little bit. But there’s no question that it’s all there.”

With so much attention surrounding McDaniels and Stewart, it’s easy for the other names in UW’s recruiting class to get lost. But when Bossi was watching Washington’s state tournament online, he kept coming back to Battle.

“He’s got great size,” Bossi said. “He can really shoot the ball, he’s athletic, he can put it on the floor. I think that he’s going to be a guy that a couple years from now is maybe more valuable to the program because he’s going to be around a little bit longer. And then, you know, Marcus Tsohonis provides nice depth and a little more versatility in the back court.”

With traditional Pac-12 basketball powers taking a step back in recent years, Bossi said there is no better time for UW to propel itself to the top of the conference. Last season, the Huskies won a Pac-12 regular season title and advanced to the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.

The 2019 recruiting class represents the next step forward.

“You have to recruit for success, meaning you don’t recruit for number or because they are the best player in the state or whatnot,” Hopkins said. “What you’re recruiting them is they’re perfect fits, you know, that they’re really going to thrive in your program and they are great kids on and off the court. If we can get that, that’s the perfect recipe. That’s what I think our staff has done an incredible job of.”

Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for PennLive.com. A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.

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