The Last Go Around: Caleb Daniels Returns for One More Year


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Caleb Daniels returns for his fifth year to lead the Wildcats.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

Caleb Daniels isn’t supposed to be here. 

The sixth-year graduate guard has already appeared in 120 games in his collegiate career. But because of the NCAA’s decision to grant all athletes whose 2020-21 seasons were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic an extra year of eligibility, Daniels is able to return for a fifth season playing college basketball and a sixth year of college. 

For those of you wondering what six years in college gets you, Daniels has completed an undergraduate degree in Communication and is now working towards a postgraduate certificate in education. 

“[I’m] not really sure what direction I wanna go in with education just yet,” Daniels said. “I’m just learning all that I can learn.”

After earning the title of Valedictorian at St. Augustine High School in the graduating class of 2017, Daniels committed to play at Tulane University in his hometown of New Orleans. 

“It was a blessing,” Daniels said. “Tulane was five minutes away from my house, so just to have family and friends always come up and I can just put their names on the ticket list and they’ll always be in attendance. […] It was always a blessing to just have the opportunity to play in my hometown and be one of the shining stars in my hometown.”

In his sophomore season with the Green Wave, Daniels appeared in and started all but one game that season, and led the team in scoring at just under 17 points per game. After his second year, with the departure of head coach Mike Dunleavy, Daniels ultimately made the decision to transfer. It would mean the guard would have to redshirt a year, as it wouldn’t be until 2021 that the NCAA would drop the redshirt year for transfers. Daniels chose Villanova and sat out the 2019-20 season.

“At first, it was a little bit tough because I was so familiar with home and that was all I knew,” Daniels said. “ […] The more I stayed here, the more I realized maybe it’s great to be away from home, because you get to be more independent, get to grow on your own, see who you really are, and see who you are in the state of uncomfortability. So I became comfortable being uncomfortable out here.”

If there were any growing pains initially for Daniels after his transfer, you certainly wouldn’t have noticed based on his play on the court. Daniels started 24 games for the ‘Cats in the COVID-shortened year, averaging just under 10 points per game and shooting the three ball at a 38.6% clip. 

But the sailing wouldn’t stay smooth for Daniels. In April of 2021, he developed myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, after dealing with COVID-19. It caused Daniels to be completely sidelined from basketball activity for roughly five months. 

“There has been so much that I’ve been through here as a person, and it’s things that are all out of your control that you really can’t predict,” Daniels said. “[…] As you know, I had myocarditis. I never predicted that that would happen, catching COVID-19 twice and going through a couple of things of my own.” 

But through that experience, Daniels emphasized the importance of keeping what he calls an “attitude of perseverance.” 

“I never really said I wanted to go through things like that, but what I learned is that you have to continue to have a good attitude,” Daniels said. “You have to continue to have an attitude of perseverance because life can beat you up so much, but you have to always stay confident, you have to always continue to move with aggression and to be confident in who you are, and to stand on what you stand on.”

Daniels also pointed out that much of the same philosophy that he applies to basketball also applies to life.

“You have to always have a next play mentality,” Daniels said. “The next play presents a new opportunity to become better, and that’s how life is. If you screw up in one moment before, there’s always a new opportunity that presents itself, so you have to put your energy towards the next possession, to the next play in life, and see where that takes you.”

As a result of his bout with myocarditis, Daniels was moved to the bench for the 2021-22 season, starting just three of the ‘Cats’ 38 games last year. When asked if going from a starting role to a bench position was a difficult adjustment, Daniels said it was just about what he could do to make the team better. 

“It wasn’t difficult for me at all,” Daniels said. “I’m not a guy that has a lot of pride in starting, I’m not a guy that says ‘I have to start in order to have an impact.’ I started off pretty rusty because I came from myocarditis. I just wanted to be one of those guys like, ‘What do I need to do for us to be better?’ I don’t care if I score, I don’t care if I start […] Whatever I needed to do, that was my mindset in order to help this team be the best that we can be.”

And Daniels helped lead the team to a Final Four appearance, coinciding with the championship’s return to his hometown of New Orleans. Daniels averaged over 10 points a game during the season, while also averaging more minutes per game than the 2020-21 season. Daniels’ leadership and offensive spark off the bench proved to be a valuable resource for the Wildcats. 

“Caleb’s path has been really unique,” Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune said. “Started at Tulane, leading scorer, then came here and has played a lot different [of a] role. He’s been a defensive guy, he’s been a guy who’s been asked to play a role, and now he’s done all those things, and also has scored a lot too. And now, he’s going to be in a spot where he’s going to be asked to score a lot more, but he already has the habits on the other side of the ball as well.”

Daniels seems ready to step up. After being the youngest sibling in a “basketball family” (both Daniels’ brothers also played collegiate basketball), there’s nothing that he wouldn’t have the toughness and grit to face head on.

“They’ve taught me a lot growing up, especially my brothers too,” Daniels said. “Playing a game of 21, everyone for themselves, teaches you how to be tough. It taught me a lot and it molded me into not only the player I am but the person I am too, so I’m really appreciative for it all.

“I wasn’t leaving the gym until I won.”