The conversation sticks with Daniel Edozie, even now as he leans up against the padded red beam off by himself at the Sukup Basketball Complex. His tall 6-foot-8 frame towers above and his 252-pound build is daunting. He just needed to use it.
Edozie was in influx — in the period between no longer being a junior, but still technically awaiting his senior year — when the conversation came. The Compton, Calif., native stops, pauses and then recalls.
“You’re playing like…” teammate Dustin Hogue told him this summer, pausing. “You’re not being aggressive. Get mean. Get dominant.”
Something can be told about Daniel Edozie from the words that sit below his profile photo on Twitter: “I’m not the best, but I work hard... I’m not talented but I do the things talent won't do...”
To understand Edozie, you first need to understand his story. Edozie was born in London in October 1992, and lived there for more than a decade before moving to the United State when he was 11-years-old. A year later he was panhandling for food and sleeping in the park before settling into foster care in Compton.
Edozie has played basketball for less than 10 years of his life. He played at Compton Centennial High as a senior and got college looks. At Tyler Junior College (Texas), he averaged 5.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore, and when a call came into Iowa State from his coach, the forward soon after visited and committed.
Last season, Edozie averaged slightly less than six minutes per game for the Cyclones. He made a critical play early in the season — when he blocked a last-second shot to seal a 90-88 win against BYU — and then came on late.
“Last year, I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t all there,” Edozie admits now, entering his final season. “Physically I was, but mentally I wasn’t. Because I wasn’t mentally there, I wasn’t too much into the game.”
When Georges Niang went down with a broken foot in the NCAA tournament in San Antonio, Fred Hoiberg turned to Edozie. He started the final two games of the season, in the brightest spotlight, collecting four rebounds in 16 minutes in Iowa State’s two-point win against North Carolina, which sent him to another start in New York City.
“He’s never really been put in that spotlight before to try to star on a team,” Hogue said. “To actually see him come forward and have the heart to play that game like that, he sees his ability to make an impact on our team.”
Daniel Edozie is still leaning against the beam when he hears the question. Fred Hoiberg had just recently called him one of the most improved players as Iowa State enters a season full of expectations. This is quite the compliment on a team that’s loaded with talent.
“Where have you made the most progress?” Edozie is asked.
The question almost catches him off-guard. He makes sure he understands, and when he finds out that he does he begins laughing.
“That’s a tough question,” he says, pausing for several seconds. “What’s been the biggest progress?” he asks again. He knows the answer.
“When Dustin said, ‘Get mean,’” Edozie finally says. “It takes something for me to get going. I figured out what it takes for me to get going is to get mean. Now that I got mean and am more dominant in the block or whatever, I guess that’s where the biggest progress is.”
The week prior, Edozie had thrown 6-foot-9 teammate Jameel McKay’s shot against the concrete wall at Sukup, hit a jumper over him and then dunked on Hogue.
“That was the best stretch of offense I’ve seen from Daniel since he’s been here,” Hoiberg said. “Then he shot an air-ball.”
Yet, there is a new Daniel Edozie these days. He fights harder for rebounds and better understands his offensive game. In Iowa State’s first exhibition game, albleit against a lesser opponent, Edozie scored 14 points and collected 11 rebounds in 17 minutes.
Most importantly was how he played.
“He’s going up for dunks instead of layups now,” Hogue said. “He’s becoming more invested on the offensive side. Defensively, he’s knocking guys over to get the rebound. I’m kind of proud to see him elevate his game the way he is right now.”
On a transition in his first minutes of the 2014-15 season, Edozie leaped into the air, rested a pass from Naz Long above the rim on his right palm and slammed it in.
“The key for me is just confidence,” Edozie said. “I started seeing the confidence in myself and knowing that I have the skills that I have.”
He retreated back down court, and with closed fists pumped his chest twice. This is the daunting Daniel Edozie, as mean as ever.