Over the past two summers, UIndy men’s basketball head coach Stan Gouard didn’t have to look into Nicoson Hall when he got to his office in the morning and heard the ball bouncing. He already knew who was there. It was Daniel Daudu. It had been 603 days between games by the time Daudu finally took the court again this fall. In the meantime, he has been tested emotionally, mentally, and physically. But he remains unbroken.
‘Coach gave me confidence’
March 12, 2011, when the Greyhounds took the floor against eventual national champ Bellarmine, marked UIndy’s return to the NCAA tournament after a six-year absence. Daudu started his 14th game of his freshman season, playing a team-high 34 minutes on the way to nine points and career highs of seven assists and five rebounds in the 84-70 defeat.
“That game, I remember Coach gave me confidence,” Daudu said. “He told me, ‘I want you to do whatever your mind tells you to do with this ball.’ It was one of the best games of my life.”A breakout campaign seemed to be ahead for the native of Lagos, Nigeria. He was firmly established as a starter, and more shots and oppor-tunities in the backcourt would be available with the graduation of All-American Darius Adams.
“After the season, Coach Gouard talked to me about staying here for the summer,” Daudu said. “He told me he had gone through the tapes. ‘You can score whenever you want to score. I just don’t know why you don’t score.’ So I was going to put in the work that summer. I remember I just missed three days of workouts, and that was because of class.” But as the season approached, Daudu experienced pain in his right knee. He received treatment and began preseason conditioning with the team when school started. But the pain worsened, and surgery was required.
Forced to sit out
“It was a tremendous blow to me and an even bigger blow to him because he’d worked so hard,” Gouard said. “When I had the injury, it was mind-blowing,” Daudu said. “I felt so bad. I felt so down.”
“When he came in, it was emotional for both of us,” Gouard said. “I hate to see kids go through what he went through, to work so hard to get better and then in the blink of an eye, your career is in jeopardy. We talked about learning from the sidelines and becoming even more of a student of the game.”
Daudu became a de facto coach for UIndy—and wore dapper suits on the sidelines that would often make him the best-dressed man in the arena. While he was unable to help his team physically, he absorbed the game from a mental perspective. “It might have been a blessing for him to get hurt. Now he sees the game from a different perspective because he had that chance to sit on the sidelines and watch like a coach,” Gouard explained. “Sometimes before I would go into the locker room at halftime, I could hear Daniel addressing the team.
“I learned a lot sitting on the bench and listening to the coaches, especially about decision-making,” Daudu said. “I knew I had the mindset to not take things for granted, but it went to another level sitting on the bench. It’s a blessing every day to step on that court and play basketball.”
Daudu was back to running by December, and once the calendar turned, the doctors cleared Daudu to return to practice activity. While he didn’t return to the active lineup, Daudu’s presence in practice helped, and UIndy went on to one of its best seasons, with 20 wins and its second-ever NCAA tournament victory. Daudu doubled down on the work, remaining in Indianapolis again during the offseason to improve his game and take classes toward graduation.
“Daniel is a proud young man,” Gouard said. “He believes in his craft. He knows hard work pays off in the long run. I can’t take credit for that. It doesn’t take much motivation for Daniel.
I think that comes from his mom, his dad, and his brothers instilling that in him as a young man.”
While always in constant communication with his family through the wonders of modern technology, Daudu hadn’t seen any of his immediate family in person since the day he left Nigeria in December 2008. “It was tough for me. I was a momma’s boy and it was tough for her,” Daudu said about the decision to pursue his dreams in the United States. “She told me, ‘If that is what you want to do with your life, go chase your dream.’ For me it was really tough leaving home. I was 18 and had traveled a lot to Europe and all over Africa, but it wasn’t the long road where I was going to leave for years without coming back. I didn’t know it was going to be four years, because I thought that the next year I was going to go back to play for the national team. When I came over here the schedule wasn’t the same. I had to change. I had to adapt. It took years to finally get cleared by the NCAA and come to college.”
Throughout his time in the U.S. (in prep school and at UIndy), Daudu kept to himself about how sick his mother was back home. “She’d had partial paralysis. She could only make some certain sounds that only a child close to his mother can understand. She could listen and hear everything you’re saying and she’ll make that sound that you understand. Most of the sounds she made to me were to not stress. ‘I’m going to be fine. You just need to do what you have to do. I’m right there.’ That’s what she always said to us growing up. ‘Wherever you go, just know I’m right there with you.’”
His mother passed away on April 27. Daniel returned to Nigeria for the funeral and spent a month getting reacquainted with his family. “I get so lonely at times I have to go sit down. I’ve asked myself so many questions. I know she supported me and wanted this for me, but was it worth it leaving home to come here for four years without seeing the most important person in my life? And now she’s gone and I won’t see her for the rest of my life?” He imagines asking her that question. “When I ask myself if it was worth it, I try to think how she is going to react. If I asked her in passing, ‘Mom, was it worth it for me to leave you for four years?’ Then I see that smile on her face and it’s okay. And I live with that the majority of the time.”
Back to work
After Nigeria, Daudu was immediately back in Nicoson Hall, displaying the work ethic that’s been his calling card since day one at UIndy. “He’s going to help us a whole lot,” Gouard said. “I foresee him being one of the greats to come through UIndy because he works as hard as any guy I’ve coached. He has a motor that not too many guys his size have. He understands that hard work pays off.”
“We grew up with that mindset,” Daudu says. “We didn’t have much growing up. There were so many sacrifices my parents made. My mom didn’t go to college; she went to hand-working school. She had a salon and would do head upon head and come back at night and make and sew clothes. That was how much she would put in to see that her children had a good life. My dad was a cop and is super, super hard-working. Coming from a home and seeing that kind of strength, plus nine kids—and it wasn’t just us. My house would have 20 to 25 people and my mom would feed them like they were her own.Seeing her doing all this made us realize that if this woman can do this, we can do it. She got sick early in life and still did that. If she can go through those pains, I have no excuse. People look at me over here and think ‘This boy must be obsessed or something,’ but it’s in here, [and] that lady is the backbone.”
Nigeria is a country where many people struggle, and Daudu was able to return home and realize the position he is in as a motivator for the next generation of children. “If I can do this coming out of this crazy neighborhood, anybody can. There were so many kids around, and they just want to hear what you have to tell them. I had to share with them and make them realize that anybody can do this.
“Nothing in this world should be able to stop you. The more successful I’m able to become, the more people I can pull off the street back home. That alone is one motivation for me.”
In the end, however, when it’s back to the gym with just a basketball, sometimes without even turning the lights on, he knows he is not alone. “Nobody believed. The one person who told me to ‘do whatever you want to do’ was my mom. I need to do this for my mom. That woman is my life and she did so much for me. I need to do this for her.”