Danielak a key to Runnin’ Panthers’ success

By Joseph Garcia

Some folks are seemingly born to do certain things in their lifetime and for Liberty Hill senior Blake Danielak, basketball was always his destiny.

The 6-7 forward was one of the cornerstones of last season’s deep playoff run and is essential to the team’s success for the 2012-2013 season. If the Runnin’ Panthers figure to go back to the regional finals, Danielak will be a key.

“I’ve been playing basketball as long as I can remember,” said Danielak. “I used to have a Little Tykes basketball goal until I was old enough for an 8-foot goal.”

Danielaks and basketball seemingly go hand in hand. Danielak’s father, Ray, played basketball at Southwest Texas State University (Texas State) and his older sister Kristina is a senior forward at Cornell.

As for Blake, he said he would not be the player he is today without his father’s guidance.

“My Dad has always been my personal coach and supporter and he has taught me everything I know,” Danielak said. “To this day he still coaches me.”

Danielak, 17, said that he loves to play the game because he gets to compete with some of the best players from all over the state and nation. However, there is a particular player he absolutely loves to play with on his own team – friend and fellow senior Shane LaCaille.

He and LaCaille have been friends since moving to Liberty Hill in the third grade. The two have played for both Liberty Hill schools and summer league teams for quite some time and they have picked up each other’s playing habits and tendencies.

“I really like playing with Shane (LaCaille),” Danielak said. “We have been playing together for so many years and so many games that we know where we want the ball and where the other is going to be (on the court). He is really a tough competitor and a good distributer of the ball. He throws the ball even before you are open because he trusts that you are going to be there. He also has amazing court vision. It is just an overall great experience playing with him by my side.”

Danielak is confident in his skills and feels that his shooting and jumping abilities are the strongest part of his game. As a junior last season he averaged 16 points, 7.5 rebounds and five blocks per game.

On any given night Danielak can put up 30-plus points and grab 10 rebounds. At 6-7 he is difficult for opposing teams to matchup against him because he is not your typical forward.

Instead of pounding the ball inside most of the time, Danielak leads his defender to the perimeter where he excels with making shots from long range.

“He is a tough matchup for opponents due to his size,” said Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren of Danielak. “He can almost always get a shot facing up. Then, he also has to be dealt with when his back is to the basket.”

Coach Boren said Danielak has shown significant improvement in his skill level over the years and continues to grow as a player and a person with each game. Danielak’s improvement can be attributed to hard work and commitment not only in practice, but also away from the gym with outside assistance.

The Danielaks hired a personal trainer, which is something Coach Boren said has really helped his strength and overall confidence.

“Blake (Danielak) has gotten progressively better in each of his high school years,” Boren said. “In the beginning, he was nothing more than a tall, very skinny perimeter shooter. He got stronger, bigger, and better each year. The most drastic improvement came between his sophomore and junior seasons. He became a shot blocker during that year and we had tremendous success as a team.”

This season, with the edition of forward Tyler Eyre from Vandegrift, Danielak has moved outside as a defender, usually guarding a smaller man. Coach Boren feels that has opened up an area that before had been problematic for Danielak.

“He has done really well,” Boren said. “The advantage for him is that it will help him at the next level.”

Attempting to make his mark at Liberty Hill before moving on to the next level, Danielak said goals for the team include winning a state championship and personally to be an All-State player, but the team is more focused on the short term.

The team’s mindset is taking care of the now.

“We are going to set short-term goals because we have a long way and a lot of basketball before March,” Danielak said. “I think we have a chance to do a lot of big things this year. But we have to keep working every day and every practice.”

Upon graduation from Liberty Hill, Danielak, whose favorite subjects are math and economics, plans to play Division I basketball in college.

Danielak, who verbally committed to play for Texas Tech back in February, recently re-opened his recruitment to other possibilities following the departure of Coach Billie Gillispie who recruited him. He was the only commit the Red Raiders had for the 2013 class and now with uncertainty of Texas Tech’s program beyond this season, given that current coach Chris Walker holds an interim title, Danielak said he is exploring his options. Currently, the sharp-shooting forward has standing offers from Columbia and Rice on the table, but he has other schools in mind as well.

Other schools he is considering are Vanderbilt, Texas, California, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Clemson and Boston University.

Coach Boren said Danielak’s upside is drawing the attention of many schools.

“He has had the propensity to improve game to game,” he said of Danielak. “His biggest upside is that he going to get taller, bigger, and better. That’s why so many different schools are interested in him playing in their program.”

Not only is he an excellent basketball player, but Danielak is an exceptional guy, according to his coach. Danielak is a rare kind of star player that is not just about basketball. He has the smarts to attend most any college and the audacity as a human to care for others.

Danielak’s leadership qualities are derived from the type of person he is, Boren said.

“Blake is a superlative player, student and person,” Boren said. “He leads in that regard.  He knows the difference between right and wrong and generally makes that expression shown.”