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February 8, 1996--Losing the Gentle Giant
February 8, 1996--Losing the Gentle Giant
Chandler, AZ
Published by John C.
February 8, 1996--Losing the Gentle Giant

Justin laid his head on his pillow but the last thing he could think about doing was going to sleep. You see, tomorrow was going to be the beginning of the birthday celebration. His fifth birthday wasn’t going to be for a couple of days but tomorrow was going to be the most fun. He would get to go to a basketball game at the University of Dayton and go out for a post-game snack with his favorite basketball player, Chris Daniels.

Justin finally got to sleep that night, but when he awoke, his world would be changed forever. He would not get to see UD play that night as the game was cancelled. He would not get to see Chris Daniels that night or ever again. Before the sun rose that day, he had lost his hero.

Chris went to sleep that previous night with the same thoughts about playing LaSalle the following day. He was just coming into his own as a player. He was all legs and arms when he graduated as a first team all Ohio player from DeSales High School in Columbus. He had a nice touch from 15 feet that belied his height and soft hands around the basket. Too thin to be a major player in the paint in college, it was obvious that he needed to change his body and sharpen his skills to be successful.

His college career started slowly with little playing time and then the setback of a torn ACL. Through it all, he kept his nose to the grindstone and worked at becoming a better player. Chris gradually improved but was still not developing into the player that had been envisioned earlier in his career. Then something clicked and the game slowed down for him. He worked hard and matured into a physical specimen. No longer just arms and legs, he became a force in the middle. He became an option on offense that hadn’t presented itself in the past.

As his senior year progressed, the 22 year old was opening eyes at the NBA level as he stood toe to toe with the eventual number 2 draft pick, Marcus Canby, in their only meeting that year. He had increased his points per game output three fold from his junior year as he was averaging 12 points and six rebounds per game. He led the NCAA in field goal percentage for the majority of his senior year and was number two that February day. All of that potential had turned into reality. There was no question that Chis was going to make a living playing basketball, the only question was where.

The phone rang at 7AM on February 8, 1996. My best friend from the age of nine called and asked if I had heard the news. I was living in Columbus so I was slow at getting news from Dayton. Then the words came from his mouth. “Chris Daniels died today.” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. I hung up and immediately called the Dayton Daily News. They confirmed the news and all I could do was stand there and quiver. How was this possible? Chris was a physical god. He had taken that skinny body and turned it into a masterpiece. How could he be gone?

I had followed Chris in high school after he signed his letter of intent but never got an opportunity to speak to him until mid way through his freshman year. My season tickets had found their way into someone else’s envelope when they were sent out and in their place was a single season ticket near my normal location. Gary McCans, the Director of Ticketing Services, was kind enough to take care of me with replacement tickets that year and I would occasionally find myself in the player parent area.

During one of those games I was sitting next to a very attractive, very excitable African American woman. It didn’t take me long to guess that she might had an affiliation with one of the players. We started talking and both being from Columbus, Alice Daniels and I immediately hit it off. As the season drug on, which is what they did during that era, we became close, often getting together after games and in Columbus. It was during those times together that I got to know Chris.

Soft-spoken, witty and bright, he struck me as more than your typical athlete. He could carry on a conversation about things other than sports and do it well. The more I got to know him, the more fond of him I became.

After weekend games, my wife, Julia and my two boys, Justin and eventually Jason, would stay and interact with the players getting the same autographs game after game. During those times I noticed Chris quite a bit because we were usually standing with Alice. Most UD players are very fan friendly, but Chris always took it a bit further and as a result he was more popular than his stats would indicate.

My favorite remembrance, and I have reiterated this numerous times, was when a young man of about seven came up to Chris and asked him for an autograph which he had done numerous times before. Chris said no he could not have one unless the boy gave his autograph to Chris, too. The look on the boy’s face was amazing. The fact that Chris Daniels wanted his autograph was worth a million dollars to him.

It was little things like this that made Chris special. He never expected special service when going to a restaurant around campus. He was always willing to lend a hand whenever needed. He was just a special person that cared more about others than himself.

I talk to Justin about Chris every year around this time and he still remembers how nice Chris was to him, but sadly, he never got to really know him like the rest of us did. We all lost a special person on that cold February morning, one that I will never forget even as I begin to forget things that happened to me last week. Chris Daniels was one of a kind, one that we all should be proud is part of the UD family.
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By NJFlyr71 on 02-07-2016, 08:57 PM
Chris was one of the many players to put on the Flyer uni that represented the University well.
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By Viperstick on 02-08-2016, 12:11 PM
Remember that fateful day well. Heard the lead in on Headline News that a player had died. I thought it might have been Camby as he had had some health issues at that time. I was floored when the segment started & learned it was Chris.

Never met him, but always felt he was one of the bright spots from the JOB years. RIP Chris, and thanks for representing yourself, your family, and the university so well.
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