Meet J.T. Daniels, the affable 6-foot-2 Addison Trail junior forward. During the football season he's a left guard. On the basketball court, he brings that same physicality and a motor that just doesn't seem to quit.
In the last minute of the Blazers' 59-47 loss to Downers Grove South on Friday, there was Daniels, arms up, legs churning, getting in position, overcoming double-teams -- just like he had the entire game.
All that hard work paid off. He led his team with 14 points and 7 rebounds. He almost single-handedly kept the Blazers in the game in the third quarter, sparking a 9-3 run with a layup off a miss by senior guard Vito Ciaccia.
In the fourth quarter Daniels shifted to a passing role and was just as effective. He dropped a dime to junior guard Adem Mehmeti with 3:38, who promptly hit a 3-pointer from the top left of the key. After a Mustangs' layup it was Daniels again, passing inside to Mehmeti, who hit a layup.
So what does Daniels carry over from football?
"Hustling," he said, perhaps an understatement. "You might be the smallest guy on the court, but a guy who is 6-6, if you outhustle him, you can beat anyone. That's my mentality."
Friday wasn't a win for Addison Trail (5-4, 0-3 West Suburban Gold), partly thanks to a season-best night by Downers South senior guard Pat Shaughnessy, who led all scorers with 18 points, hit four 3-pointers and orchestrated a 13-2 run by himself in the second quarter.
But Blazers coach Brendan Lyons couldn't ignore Daniels' effort.
"He's a workhorse," Lyons said. "You can't really reel him back in, because that's what he does. He just plays and competes at such a high level that as long as he's able to go, you keep him on the floor.
"You get seven, eight guys doing that, you can do some special things."
Daniels' effort didn't take away from that of Mehmeti, who finished with 13 points and 4 rebounds. He almost single-handedly kept the Blazers in the game late, thanks to his two buckets off Daniels passes and another layup at 2:12 that cut Downers South's lead to 53-47. Addison Trail didn't score again, but that wasn't too shabby for a guy in his first game back after a concussion.
"I missed two games and it sucked to be on the bench, and I just couldn't wait to get back and play with the team," Mehmeti said.
As for the Mustangs (5-4, 2-1), coach Kris Olson noted that six weeks into the season, he and his coaching staff were wondering where Shaughnessy's 3-point shooting acumen was. Apparently, he found it Friday.
"We've been on him since Day One -- where is the guy who played fearless in the summer and was open and would shoot the ball?" Olson said. "Tonight we saw him."
Said Shaughnessy: "At practice coach gave me the green light, so tonight I tried to show what I could do. My team just really gave me the confidence to shoot."