Xavier (X-Man) McDaniel found himself in a shootout Saturday on the Oklahoma plains. McDaniel blasted first, shortly after high noon, using four supraorbital dunks and other ammo to pump 34 points into host Tulsa, as Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final 84-82. Then, sometime after sundown, in the Midwestern City Conference tournament final across town at Oral Roberts' Mabee Center, Alfredrick (The Great) Hughes returned fire with conventional jumpers, gunning for 26 points as Loyola of Chicago wasted ORU 89-83. When the smoke cleared, X-Man and The Great shared identical Division I-leading stats: 822 points and 27.4 scoring averages. Tulsans could only weep for loved ones caught in the crossfire.
Now McDaniel and Hughes carry their running duel and noms de guerre into the NCAA tournament. Statistics from that tournament count for such purposes, but McDaniel, a 6'8" senior forward, has all but clinched his second Division I rebounding title with 15.0 per game. Hughes is his only challenger for the scoring crown. No player has ever accomplished the double single—the scoring and rebounding championships in the same season. Only two—Bill Mlkvy of Temple in 1950-51 and Lewis Lloyd of Drake in 1979-80—have finished a year No. 1 or No. 2 in both categories. What would it mean to the X-Man to rocket to the NCAA record book's empyrean? "I want my team to win," he says. "Hughes can have the scoring title for all I care."
But impressive stats come naturally to McDaniel, who plays with a wide-eyed, sharp-elbowed relentlessness. As his coach, Gene Smithson, puts it, "X plays hungry." He regularly goes 40 minutes without relaxing his guard or his glare, which is fierce. Given also McDaniel's shaved pate and a 205-pound body worthy of a Marvel Comics' superhero, only Mr. T lends more menace to an initial. "I don't see no reason to smile on the court," says X-Man, who even psychs himself during his pre-game showers.
But for all the public knows, McDaniel may as well be the title character in X, The Unknown. During most of his first two years at Wichita State, the probation-plagued Shockers were shut out from national TV. What publicity the team got went mostly to Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, Wichita linemates and NBA first-round picks. Then last year McDaniel was left off the guest list at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Those who've seen McDaniel, however, believe. Al Menendez, the New Jersey Nets' scout, has X rated a Top 10 NBA draft choice. "Small forward is becoming a more physical position, and that's to his advantage," Menendez says. Will Robinson of the Pistons considers him capable of playing three positions in the NBA—both the forward slots and off guard. "He's that much player," says Robinson. Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson simply brands X the best player in the country. Says teammate Aubrey Sherrod, "He's like a baby Moses Malone."
McDaniel grew up in a God-fearing home in the Edisto Court section of Columbia, S.C., where his father, James, held down two jobs to make ends meet. X-Man played ball till all hours with an older, larger crowd. In order to last in games of 21, McDaniel realized he had to learn to rebound. By studying an opponent's shot, X marked the spot to which a miss would come and positioned himself accordingly. "He never gets a rebound on a reach," says former Kansas coach Ted Owens, the Shockers' TV colorman. "He's always right there."
McDaniel came under two strong influences at Columbia's A.C. Flora High. One was coach Carl Williams, who demanded discipline, defense and unselfishness from his troops; the other was teammate Tyrone Corbin, now co-captain of DePaul. The two hung together—Corbin drove the school bus, McDaniel sat up front—and are still close. "X was always quick and always fierce," recalls Corbin. "And he kept getting worse as he went along." Their one-on-one games were wars.
McDaniel hoped to attend South Carolina. He sold Cokes at Gamecock football games as a youngster and was all geared up to break Alex English's school basketball scoring records. But South Carolina coach Bill Foster wanted to send McDaniel to prep school for a year to raise his grades, and X-Man balked. That's when the Shockers stepped in. McDaniel now carries a C-plus grade-point average in TV-Radio.
"You could tell right away he was a greyhound," says Smithson. "He'd go after every ball, and not just once. He was extremely quick off the floor, and he backed down to no one." McDaniel's freshman year consisted mostly of sitting and learning. Coaches had to put tape down on the court to help him measure his steps for lefty layups. When Levingston opted for the NBA the next season, McDaniel stepped in at power forward. Seldom more than 12 feet from the basket on offense, he averaged 18.8 points per game and led the nation in rebounding with 14.4 per game. Some figured, X post facto, that he had it easy because opponents had keyed so intently on Carr. But when Carr departed the following year, McDaniel occasionally ventured beyond the paint to raise his scoring mark to 20.6 points per game. He was named the conference's MVP.
Meanwhile, McDaniel was learning to handle life in southern Kansas. At first he might as well have been in Oz; he was so homesick he'd call his mother, Nellie Ruth, every morning to assure her he was off to class. As his game improved, X grew more outgoing and talkative. So says his girl friend, Sylvia Selmon, a niece of football's Lucious, Lee Roy and Dewey. "I knew him when he was on the pines," she says. "My dad asked me who was I going out with, and I said X-Man. He said, 'X-Man what?' "
Last summer McDaniel added the final element to his game. After mastering the inside stuff, McDaniel developed his jump shot. Now that he's a threat from 15 to 18 feet, he can escape the double-teaming he's routinely subjected to down under. But X-Man enjoys the contact of posting up, popping his short turnaround J and pounding the offensive boards. "When I put a man on my heel," says X, "he stays there. Permanent."
McDaniel already has a permanent place in the Missouri Valley's pantheon, having joined Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird as the only members of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club. Come what may in his stats duel with Hughes, McDaniel has made his mark. At this moment there may be no other player of X caliber in the land.