Caleb Daniels’ Homecoming: NOLA Native Returns for Final Four


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Caleb Daniels (above) returns home to New Orleans to compete with the Wildcats in the Final Four.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

NEW ORLEANS — Over 1,000 miles from Villanova’s campus, the members of the Wildcat roster enter New Orleans with anticipation, but for Caleb Daniels, this weekend holds a different meaning. The redshirt senior shares the excitement with his teammates, but for Daniels, the feeling stems from his long-awaited homecoming.

The New Orleans native has not played in his home city since transferring to Villanova after the 2018-19 season, so to return to the city for the Final Four with an opportunity to help the ‘Cats win their fourth title is special for Daniels.

“It’s definitely, honestly, a true blessing and an honor to be part of this, to have the Final Four here,” Daniels said. “I started my college career here so it’s definitely an honor and a blessing.”

Daniels played his first two seasons at Tulane University where he had much success, averaging 16.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in his sophomore campaign with the Green Wave. But after a coaching change, Daniels decided he would take his talents elsewhere. 

Coming off of a National Championship and having lost over 70% of its scoring, Villanova was looking for new pieces. It was Daniels’ offensive star power that caught the eye of the Wildcats’ coaching staff and once Daniels started to explore his options, it was clear, to him and his future Villanova teammates, that the Main Line was the place for him. 

“I knew right away that he (Daniels) was a great fit for our program, just him as a person,” graduate guard Collin Gillespie said. “I knew he would fit in right away. And as a basketball player as well, he’s grown so much since when he first got here.” 

While his numbers on the stat sheet might not appear as high in his time at Villanova, Daniels has taken great leaps in the last three years with the Wildcats just from being a part of the Villanova culture. 

“I think that’s just being around my teammates,” Daniels said of his growth. “Being around guys that are pushing me every day, holding me accountable to be the best version of myself, and also to push them and keep them accountable as well. And overall I think what’s helped is just being solid. Every day we push each other, every day in practice it’s just constantly going beyond what we do every single day.”

After redshirting his first season as a Wildcat due to transfer restrictions, Daniels made an immediate impact in the 2020-21 season, starting 24 of the team’s 25 games and averaging 9.6 points per game. While only starting two games this season, he has arguably increased his effectiveness. 

“What’s been so impressive is his faith and his mental toughness,” head coach Jay Wright said of Daniels and the obstacles he has faced. “You never saw him down. You never saw it, even when he was coming back from injuries and stuff, you didn’t see him frustrated. It’s incredible. And it’s why he’s in the position he’s in now. As I said, he’s playing the best basketball of his career.” 

Along the way, Daniels has faced obstacles and health scares that have made his journey harder than many are aware. Like many other athletes, Daniels had COVID during the 2020-21 season, sidelining him for a few games. But, when that was followed by an almost six month myocarditis scare and a second stint of COVID, the super-senior’s play was more affected than most. 

Despite this unexpected challenge during the offseason, Daniels, who Wright has called the team’s “sixth starter” throughout the season, averaged 10.2 points per game on 42.7% shooting from the field. Daniels has continued this into the NCAA Tournament, averaging 11 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the first four games. 

After losing starting point guard Justin Moore to a torn achilles in the team’s Elite Eight win, Daniels will return to a starting role this weekend, back in his hometown with family and friends in the stands. Despite being a fifth-year senior, Daniels has a choice to make about next year given the extra year of eligibility because of Covid. The chance to win a National Title in his hometown is a perfect storybook ending if this is in fact his last weekend in a Wildcat uniform. 

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for Caleb Daniels,” Wright said. “He’s just one of my favorite people as a player because of everything that he’s been through. … He’s the most amazing kid. For him to come back here is really special. For us to be with him, it’s really cool.”