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Federal Way star Jaden McDaniels breaks silence, announces commitment to Washington

Federal Way's Jaden McDaniels in action against the Ranney School during a high school basketball game at the Hoophall Classic, Monday, January 21, 2019, in Springfield, MA. (Gregory Payan / AP)
Federal Way's Jaden McDaniels in action against the Ranney School during a high school basketball game at the Hoophall Classic, Monday, January 21, 2019, in Springfield, MA. (Gregory Payan / AP)
By Percy Allen Seattle Times

SEATTLE – First Isaiah Stewart, and now Jaden McDaniels.

Next up for the Huskies: a trip to the Final Four?

“That’s how I feel,” Stewart said last month before signing with Washington. “That’s how I’ve always felt. Big things are happening at UW. … It’s a team game and you never want to put too much on one guy, but Jaden is special man.

“You add that type of player to your team and if you’re not thinking Final Four, then your dreams aren’t big enough.”

After landing Stewart, the highest-rated prospect in school history, McDaniels on Tuesday night tweeted “I’m staying home,” ending months of speculation. The Federal Way star is ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the country according to Rivals.

The package of Stewart and McDaniels, a pair of top-10 recruits and projected NBA draft lottery picks in 2020, immediately elevates expectations for the 2019-20 season for the defending Pac-12 champions.

“Jaden is an elite player, tremendously athletic for his size and is going to be a great addition to our class,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “He has an unbelievable work ethic and a great skill set for his position, as he can do it all.

“Getting an incredible player from our state is not only special, but he is a proven winner and has developed into not only the top player in the state, but one of the best in the nation. He is the perfect fit for the culture we are creating here as we continue to build the UW program and we couldn’t be more excited to see him in purple and gold.”

Stewart, a 6-foot-9 and 245-pound bruising forward, and McDaniels, a 6-10 and 185-pound smooth-shooting forward, bolster a depleted front line and give the Huskies a potentially devastating inside-out combination.

One NBA scout likened the pairing of Stewart and McDaniels to Duke freshmen stars Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett who dominated college basketball headlines and highlights last season.

“They’re going to look pretty good especially in that zone,” Rivals basketball analyst Eric Bossi said before Tuesday’s announcement. “You’re talking about two long and lengthy guys.

“Jaden is interesting because he’s very versatile offensively. … Bringing in a couple of guys like that who are uber-talented and potential lottery picks, how could you not be super excited.”

The Huskies had to wait for months before McDaniels made his choice between Kentucky, San Diego State, UCLA and Texas.

Reportedly, the Wildcats and Huskies emerged as the finalists.

“I’m just taking it all in,” McDaniels said last month. “Seeing if coaches get fired or if people are staying instead of rushing it so I can make the right choice.”

While others pushed him to make a decision and characterized his recruitment as mysterious, McDaniels waited until a week after the spring signing period ended to announce his college choice.

Late Tuesday night, he posted a caption that read “Sorry for the wait” along with a short video on his Instagram account of him wearing five different jerseys, including Federal Way High, Seattle Rotary, McDonald’s All-American, Jordan Brand Classic and UW.

Rather than a national letter of intent, McDaniels will sign a financial aid agreement that’s non-binding for prospective athletes and must be honored by the schools. Theoretically, he could sign with other schools without penalty.

“When you’re an elite prospect, there’s not really a hurry for you to make a college choice because Jaden McDaniels knows that wherever he goes to school they’re going to have a scholarship waiting for him,” said Evan Daniels, 247 Sports director of basketball recruiting. “And I think each of the schools that recruited him probably relied that message.”

Last season at Federal Way, McDaniels averaged 23.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals while displaying a versatile skill set that’s drawn favorable comparisons to Kevin Durant.

Not long ago McDaniels was in the running for the No. 1 overall spot in the national rankings.

In their final 2019 rankings, ESPN has him at No. 7 while 247 Sports tabs him at No. 8. He’s tied with Markelle Fultz in 2016 as the second highest ranked UW recruit behind Stewart.

“He had an up and down year,” Daniels said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of talent there but he’s going to have to get more consistent with his effort, with his jump shot and compete at a higher level more often.”

In addition to Stewart, McDaniels joins a UW recruiting class that includes RaeQuan Battle, a four-star forward from Marysville-Pilchuck, and Marcus Tsohonis, a three-star guard from Portland who signed last November during the early signing period.

The influx of a 2019 recruiting class ranked No. 10 nationally by 247 Sports and the addition of Kentucky transfer Quade Green, should help Washington overcome the loss of four seniors who led the Huskies to a 27-9 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament.

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