RISING Bendigo basketball star Dyson Daniels reflects on his past 12 months with a sense of pride, but his overwhelming feeling is being grateful for the chance to continue playing the game he loves through the COVID challenges sport has faced.
Daniels has just been named Basketball Victoria's 2020 Junior Male Athlete of the Year as the 18-year-old continues to make his name as one of the country's most exciting emerging players.
"It's a great honour to have won this award and be recognised as Basketball Victoria's Junior Male Athlete of the Year; it's something I've always wanted to be, so to be able to achieve it is really good," Daniels said on Saturday.
"A lot of the opportunities I've had over the past 12 months have been great.
"Through COVID I never thought I'd get the opportunities I had like being at the Centre of Excellence, represent Australia and play in the Under-20 National Championships (silver medal for Victoria)... it was a great 12 months and I really enjoyed being able to play through COVID and get the opportunities I was given.
"You never want to go through a pandemic like we have been, but the fact I could still play basketball, I'm really grateful."
You never want to go through a pandemic like we have been, but the fact I could still play basketball, I'm really gratefulDyson Daniels
The undoubted highlight of Daniels' past 12 months came earlier this year on February 20 when he made his debut for the Australian Boomers against New Zealand in a FIBA 2021 Asia Cup qualifier match in Cairns.
Aged 17 at the time, Daniels' prodigious talent was on display on the big stage with a stellar performance in the Boomers' 81-52 victory.
Daniels scored a game-high 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field to go with six steals, four assists and three rebounds in just over 25 minutes on court.
"It has been a lifetime goal of mine to play for the Boomers and represent my country at the highest level," said Daniels, who has been based in Canberra at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence for almost two years.
"When I got that opportunity I wasn't going to let it slip. I wanted to grab it with both hands and give it my best crack and, fortunately, I had a good game that will, hopefully, give me more opportunities to represent my country.
"To be able to play for the Boomers before I turned 18, not many people get that opportunity. It was a great experience."
Next on the agenda for Daniels is a three-day selection camp next week with the Australian under-19 squad ahead of the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Latvia in July.
Daniels - who has come through the NBA Global Academy - is among a squad of 18 vieing for selection following the National Under-20 Championships in which captain Daniels starred for Victoria averaging 16.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
While earning selection for the Australian Emus' team to play in the Under-19 World Cup is at the forefront of skillful guard Daniels' immediate focus, he has a big decision looming on what direction to take his basketball at a professional level.
"I'm looking at having a pro career, so I've been talking to NBL clubs here in Australia as well as the G League program (affiliated with the NBA in America) and will, hopefully, have a decision on that in the next few months on what my next step will be," Daniels said.
Such is the reputation he's establishing, Daniels' name is already being touted among mock drafts for the 2022 NBA Draft.
Earlier this month a Bleacher Report 2022 Mock Draft had Daniels as the 20th selection, while ESPN had him as pick No.18.
With Daniels seemingly on a journey to the NBA, Maryborough's Matthew Dellavedova is providing one of his sounding boards.
Dellavedova - also a former Bendigo Braves junior - has forged a 10-year NBA career, including winning a championship alongside LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.
"He gives me great advice coming through the same pathway I have. He has been there and done that and to get some advice from him on what I need to work on really helps me," Daniels said.
"It's another voice I get to take in to help me get better."
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