Driven to Succeed
by Garry Bowman
Different people get different things out of their respective athletic experiences. For some it's the thrill of competition and the incredible sense of accomplishment that goes hand-in-hand with proving that they are the best. But for others, success is measured in simpler terms - contributing to a team effort and proving that you belong.
For California sophomore center Geneva McDaniel, the path has been the latter. Blessed with a 6-5 frame that had college scouts drooling over her potential, she scored 1,485 points, hauled down 900 rebounds and rejected 290 shots during her three-year career at University High School in San Francisco.
Despite the impressive numbers, McDaniel was viewed by many as somewhat of a project coming out of the high school ranks. In fact, she freely admits that there are people who doubt whether she even belongs at the Division I level.
"Every time someone tells me that I'm not good enough, it just motivates me that much more," McDaniel said. "I've heard it so many times, but nobody really knows what's inside of you except yourself. Proving people wrong is one of the most satisfying things in the world."
McDaniel took serious strides towards proving her doubters wrong last year. Playing as a true freshman, she appeared in all but one of Cal's 27 games and led the Golden Bears in field goal percentage (54.5 percent), while averaging five points (sixth-best on the team) and 3.8 rebounds (third-best) per game. She also rejected 25 shots on the season, sixth-best in the Pacific-10 Conference.
The daughter of Robert McDaniel, who played college ball at Syracuse from 1969-71 and was later drafted by the NBA's Washington Bullets, McDaniel got hooked on hoops at a young age even though her first encounter with the sport was arduous. That experience came as a sixth-grader at Marin Country Day School. Although she already stood head and shoulders above her peers at 6-2, she was raw and unpolished.
"I was horrible," McDaniel recalls. "I was the worst player on the team and everybody made fun of me. I didn't score a single point the entire season. But then I worked really, really hard the summer between my sixth-grade year and my seventh and when I came back in seventh grade, I was the best player on the team.
"It was good to have that experience of being the worst though," she continued. "If I had always started out being the best, it wouldn't have been the same."
The experience taught McDaniel an important lesson - hard work pays off. And, it has been her work ethic that is responsible for her being such a key component of the team so early in her Cal career.
"I've always expected Geneva to be a good player, but I thought it might take a year or two to see significant progress," Cal's second-year head coach Marianne Stanley said. "The things that have allowed Geneva to contribute to the team so quickly are that she works extremely hard and she's a really good listener."
Her freshman campaign now behind her, McDaniel has her sights set on the upcoming season. And, it is her goal to play an even more expanded role in the Bears game plan than she did a year ago.
"My goal right now, as far as basketball, is to break into the group of players who are getting a lot of playing time," McDaniel said. "I want to contribute more and more to this team. Sometimes when I get something in my head, I get so anxious about it that it keeps me up at night, and this is one of those things."
McDaniel's work ethic, however, is not limited to the basketball court. One of the team's best students, it has been a life-long dream of hers to attend Harvard Law School. Raised in a tight knit family, McDaniel's father would often bring up controversial topics around the dinner table and then ask Geneva and her younger brother Justin to take an opinion.
"I grew up arguing ideas all the time," said McDaniel. "My uncles, who are all lawyers, said I was pretty good at it and that I should put those skills to good use. Besides, I love to argue."
After just one season at Cal, McDaniel is providing the evidence to back up her argument. Not only does she belong at this level, but she has the ability and work ethic to make an impact.
"I think she believes that in high school she played in a league that didn't get a lot of recognition and that she didn't get as much competitive experience playing at that level," said Stanley. "So this is a big step up for her and I think she wants to prove that she's capable of competing toe-to-toe with other centers in the Pac-10."
And knowing McDaniel, she'll prove her case on the court this season.