By A. Sherrod Blakely
Growing up in Orlando, Fla., Marquis Daniels literally stood head and shoulders above his peers.
When it came time to play basketball, Daniels found himself the center of attention, at center.
"So my favorite player, up until I was about 9 years old, was [San Antonio Spurs great] David Robinson," Daniels told CSNNE.com. "I had the number 50 jersey and everything."
Like most youngsters, he wanted to play with the older kids in the neighborhood like his brother, Keeven Scippio.
"He was a point guard, so I had to go up against him everyday dribbling the basketball," Daniels said. "Him stealing it from me, I got tired of that. I had no choice but to get my handle to where it was good enough to get by him. He was so fast, man. I had size, but he had quickness. So to play with him, I had to step my game up or keep getting embarrassed."
Daniels' ball-handling improved to where he became the starting point guard at Edgewater High School in Orlando, Fla., and later took his talents to Mt. Zion Christian Academy (the same school that produced Tracy McGrady) in Durham, N.C.
But Daniels never lost the low-post skills he developed as a youth, which came in handy when he was asked to play every position except center at Auburn.
"All the different positions I played, it was all a blessing in disguise," Daniels said. "It really helped me develop into the player that I am today."
And when you look at this Boston Celtics roster, it's clear that Daniels' value to this team can not be overstated.
Point guard Rajon Rondo is dealing with a sore left hamstring and has plantar fasciitis, although he plans to continue playing with the pain. Delonte West will be out for several weeks after suffering a broken right wrist injury last week against New Jersey. Now you can add Nate Robinson (sore left foot) to the list of banged-up Celtics guards.
That means Daniels may find himself being asked to play some at the point.
"He can do so many things to help your team, things that don't really get a lot of attention by fans," said center Jermaine O'Neal, who played two seasons with Daniels in Indiana. "But his teammates, coaches, other team's coaches, they know that players that can do all the things that Marquis can do, can only help your team."
That's why the players that Daniels looked up to the most, were respected in large part because of their ability to play multiple positions.
"Scottie Pippen was one of my favorites, and Penny Hardaway," Daniels said. "With me being from Orlando, I was a big Penny fan. Just guys that played multiple positions; guys that could bring it up, guard 1s, 2s and 3s . . . just do different things whether it was just scoring the ball, play defense, or whatever needs to be done. Those are the guys that I tried to emulate and play like."
Daniels managed to do all those things while in college, and was named to the All-SEC second team as a senior. One of his best games in college was his last game in which he scored 27 points along with 9 rebounds in a Sweet 16 loss to eventual NCAA champion Syracuse in 2003. During the Tigers' unexpected run to the Sweet 16, he averaged 23.3 points and 7 rebounds.
Draft night disappointment
Despite a solid senior season followed by an impressive NCAA Tournament run, Daniels went undrafted.
While disappointed, Daniels refused to let it deter him from his dream of playing in the NBA.
It wasn't like he had a lot of time to dwell on it, as the Dallas Mavericks were on the phone with him moments after the draft ended.
"And right after they called, [Orlando GM] Otis Smith called," Daniels said. "If the Magic would have called first, a chance to be home, I probably would have been there. It was crazy how that worked out."
Despite his ability to play multiple positions, Daniels did not appear to be a natural fit for the Mavericks who had already drafted a similar player to Daniels, Josh Howard, in the first round of that year's NBA draft.
Playing time for Daniels?
What playing time?
"I was one of those 20-up or 20-down guys," Daniels said. "The only time I really got to play was if we were up by 20 or down by 20. It might be two minutes, but I wanted to come out with 12 points, 2 steals and maybe a couple rebounds."
And Dallas coach Don Nelson, similar to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, recognized Daniels' ability to play at the point meant he would have opportunities to post-up smaller guards.
During his rookie season with Dallas, he got a chance to start in place of Steve Nash (now with the Phoenix Suns) who had a stomach flu.
Daniels tallied a near triple-double with 14 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in a victory over a Seattle team (now Oklahoma City) that featured current Celtic Ray Allen. He followed that up with a 16-point, 7-rebound, 8-assist performance in a losing effort against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were led by Kevin Garnett.
Nash returned to the starting lineup, but Daniels had proven that when given an opportunity to play significant minutes, he could deliver.
As the season went on, the Mavericks opted to go with a "small ball" lineup that included Daniels in the starting group.
During a 10-game stretch with the "small ball" lineup, Daniels averaged 19.7 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Celtics will look to go small at times, which often means Daniels will be on the floor with similar mismatches in his favor.
In Boston's 106-87 win at Cleveland on Nov. 30, Daniels had a season-high 16 points which included a number of points in the paint when he was guarded by Mo Williams and Ramon Sessions who are 6-foot-1 and 6-3, respectively.
Points are always welcomed, but that wasn't what Rivers was raving about after the game when asked about Daniels' play.
"He was moving his feet and they couldn't beat him off the dribble," Rivers said of Cleveland's point guards when defended by Daniels. "That was huge because we didn't know how long we could go with that. The fact that Marquis could do that was a big deal for us."
Rivers added, "He surprises me and he upsets me because I know he can do it every night and I am going to stay on him because he has it in him. I think he can be that terrific every single night, I really do."
Daniels' approach that night was no different than it was any other night.
"I'm just here to fill the void, wherever they need me," Daniels said. "If they need me to go down there [in the paint], I go down there. They need me to play point, I'll play point. I'm just here to help and keep things rolling so we don't miss a beat in case anyone else goes down."
Effective when healthy
When it comes to health and Daniels, the two have been at odds for years.
In his eighth NBA season, injuries have limited Daniels to playing no more than 74 games in any individual season.
Current Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle used to coach Daniels in Indiana.
"He's a special player," Carlisle told CSNNE.com. "I've never seen a guy that plays the 2 and 3 positions and can get the ball places the way he can."
With Daniels in the rotation, the Pacers were a playoff contender.
However, a troublesome left knee injury kept him sidelined for the final 25 games of the season and the Pacers slowly slid into being a lottery team.
Before Indiana shut Daniels down for the season, the Pacers were 29-28.
Without him, they lost 19 of their final 25 games.
"He became a big part of our success when he was healthy," Carlisle said.
The same was true a year ago in Boston when Daniels' impressive play at the start of the season had him among the early favorites for the league's Sixth Man of the Year award.
However, surgery to repair a right thumb injury sidelined him for 28 games.
Although he returned in time to still put together a strong season, he continued to struggle as he minutes began to be gobbled up by Tony Allen (now with the Memphis Grizzlies).
"When healthy, Marquis is a really huge piece of the puzzle we have here," Paul Pierce said in an interview with CSNNE.com.
And health, at least these days, is not an issue for Daniels.
"I'm good," Daniels said. "With me, it's never really been about me playing bad or anything like that. When I'm healthy, I've been able to play well and help my team win."
And if he's able to continue doing that, Daniels will find himself back to where his basketball career started -- head and shoulders above his peers.
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sherrodbcsn