Sudan Daniel – The Story Of A Man
For Rebound Magazine, 2010
Gabriel H. Mercado
It’s going to be a hard sell to say that what’s interesting about Sudan Daniel isn’t his game. While he is an amazing player and the Center of a Championship team both literally and figuratively, what makes him worth ten times the attention is the disadvantage of where he came from, how he overcame that to get to where he is, and how you’ll come to realize that while we may not be able to predict the future, Sudan handles himself with the experience and the positive outlook to shape it as it suits him.
October 1, 2010, fresh after a 16-0 sweep of the eliminations, I talked to Sudan for an hour at the SBC gym. What follows helps form the image of a boy on the verge of becoming a man, best described in his own words.
Where I grew up we had no money and at times we had to ask for food from cousins and friends.
I was 6 or 7. I was 9 when we had a steadier place to stay. It was always hard, we had to move around a lot, I never stayed at a HS longer than 2 – 3 years. I pretty much kept to myself. As a young kid you have to meet new people, meet new friends. For me it was kinda hard so I pretty much learned to keep to myself. My mom taught me a lot growing up and I learned a lot from my uncles. I learned a lot from the streets, just from the neighbourhood I lived in. I analyzed things a lot, I do that very well.
There were too many bad temptations. There’s always how if you don’t have a lot of friends you can join a gang. It’s really easy to get in trouble. There’s so many things that people see as things that keep them down. Like school, they’d say, school’s so hard so they might as well join a gang, or rob a store. That was one of the biggest temptations around where I grew up. There was pressure when, if you didn’t join a gang they would hassle you for the rest of your life. And in some cases people would get killed, it gets really crazy. That pressure was one of the main reasons why when I was living in California I wanted to leave there. I always wanted to go to school out of California, basically anywhere. Not only do you have the pressure of working, going to school or getting a degree or playing sports, you always had to worry about the gangs that were around your house, what color you wear, what tats you had on, it’s too much, you know, you shouldn’t have to worry about that. It wasn’t a safe environment.
There’s a lot of gang members that go to school but don’t study. If they see someone doing good, they get envious of that person and they attack, they try to pick on that person. Before I grew tall, a lot of people used to think of picking on me because I was a really nice guy. So you feel bad, you think maybe I shouldn’t be the smartest guy in the class.
Growing Up, Getting Tall and Gaining Attention
(Attracting attention due to his height) was one thing my mom always feared. I had to commute everywhere I went. Everyday I would leave at 6am and it was a 2 hour trip. I’d come back maybe 930 or 10pm and that’s the worst time, when it’s dark outside. You never know who’s around.
I actually didn’t start growing until about 8th grade, around 13 and a half to 14 years old. Before I was a short, chubby kid. I played football and other sports before basketball because you know, I wasn’t tall. If you’re tall then automatically they tell you to play basketball. In a few months I hit 6 ft., from 5’8. Nothing fit! I used to be chubby then I became skinny and tall so nothing fit. It was hard on my mom because she had to buy basically everything new.
I couldn’t really get the shoes that I wanted to ‘fit in’ in school. So we get talked about. I could say that it kinda helped me because I learned not to do that with anyone else. I’d say wow, you guys gotta calm down, you know, as long as you don’t feed off the negative energy, it doesn’t grow. I had a lot of times when people wanted to fight me because I didn’t react to what they were saying.
Starting To Learn And Love Basketball
14 years old I tried out for a team. I was just getting taller it was my first time really to play on a structured team. I thought it wasn’t my game, I quit. First year high school, I didn’t join basketball. I played football, it was kinda rough and not that exciting. I didn’t start playing basketball again until 2nd year. I had a minor injury and the Coach cut me cause I still wasn’t that good.
I had so many downfalls with basketball and I thought, maybe it’s not for me, but something told me whenever I held that ball I really wanted to be near it. It felt really good. I didn’t know what that feeling was. After I got cut in my 3rd year, the team that I got cut from, they didn’t win any more games so I made a vow that I was gonna make everyone wish that they didn’t cut me. I wanted them to remember my name. So 3rd year high school I left the team and played for a Junior Varsity team and the Varsity team. They took me back because I worked real hard during the summer. I played in every league I could to get the experience because that was the main thing that I lacked, and I played with older people. It made me stronger and a lot faster, and I jumped a lot, and that helped me a lot in High school. I didn’t go to mini camp, I just went to play in as many parks as I could, in different leagues as much as I could.
My sister played basketball in high school and she was on a championship team. She would go to the park with me and sit there and watch me play. She would say ‘try this, try that’. Although my Dad and Mom were separated, I would still hang out with him. He would tell me how to shoot and things to do.
I joined a summer program that helped kids get to Colleges. After I graduated from high school I went to Junior College and I played there for a year. Then I thought about taking a year off from work and focus on my studies. After that I took a year off of basketball and I joined the Lakers as a ballboy. And I met a lot of great people like Tex Winters, he gave me his number – and a lot of great people. They told me to stay in school and they’d see what they could do to help me.
Waitaminit – THE LAKERS?
Yeah, right? It was the best job I had ever had in my life! From the Junior College I played at Julio Lopez our team manager worked for the Lakers. He knew I needed money and they needed an extra ballboy. I applied for the job and got it. I have a pair of Kobe shoes at my dorm, I think they’re Kobe 5s in Laker colors he used when he played against the Phoenix Suns. This was 2008. The year the Celtics won.
I played with Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce at UCLA. Offseason they have an open league with big names and College guys. Just playing in that, you see that they’re really human, but they work really hard. And some days me and my friends we couldn’t play but we’d still sit there on the ground and watch them play. From that we’d see how they move, how they think, and I’m very grateful for things like that.
Getting Here From There, Being A Bedan
Also in 2008, San Beda was training in a Cal State training camp. I was invited with one team and another friend was invited with another team to play against San Beda. I played and they liked what they saw and I got an offer to play for San Beda College. They told me about the College opportunities, and how I’d get an education. I had other Colleges but the they weren’t offering full scholarships. I would have to work and do other things and wait for other scholarships to open. I wanted to take Business and Marketing and Advertising over here is the same thing so it’s exactly what I wanted to do. Once they told me my education was taken care of, I talked to my mom and she was very happy. It fit perfectly into my plan.
I feel home. A lot of people asked me was I going to get homesick, I tell them home is where the heart is, and I leave my heart on the court. So wherever court I’m at, I’m home. I love all our fans and supporters. Even the guys from other schools. If you love good, clean basketball I love you.
Overcoming Rough Play And Getting Better
In the US it’s more show – off. Here they bump you to get you out of your mindset, they’ll try to mind game you, get you off your game. They’ll pull you, hold you. It’s ok, it just took me a little while to adjust.
Sometimes I get hurt and I really want to retaliate, but I had to think as a team player instead of as an individual. If I get thrown out, it can affect my team, not only me. I can’t take it personally.
I had gotten mad until I had to call my mom. She’s an Anger Management teacher, I asked her what to do. I told her I didn’t know what to do anymore, I was being hit left and right. The refs were seeing it and not calling it, I dunno, I didn’t understand. Was it something against me? Was I doing something wrong? I didn’t understand it at first. But she said, focus, relax, the main thing was I had a job to do. God put me here for a certain reason. If I had to take a few hits, a few bumps to take the road to success, it’ll just make it that much sweeter. All these bumps, all these holes and things they do? It’s all going to make me a better player.
I feel my tenacity has grown. When I first came, when I would get bumped, I would get mad and wonder why no one was helping me. I would get down, my playing would get down. I was basically following what was in their play. I was giving them what they wanted. But now if you bump me, I’m gonna score on you. I wanna do better. I want to make it so your bump meant nothing. When you bump me and I score on you, that’s my bump back. When we win the game and you’ve been hitting me this whole time, that’s my hit back. This whole Season (’86), after all the bumps and pushes and punches, if we win the Championship that’s our spot back. That’s our retaliation. That’s the best retaliation I could ever give anyone.
About This Year’s Team Compared To The Past
My team’s great. This year’s team we’re all young, we’re all jokers (smiles), if we didn’t have that bond, it would be a lot harder. Communication was one of our biggest issues. We’ve been able to overcome that.
Last year was a great team but we had a lack of communication and trust. It was really hard. Now we hang out all the time. This weekend we’re playing Laser Tag. After every game we’re all in the bus, we have dinner, we hang out. We watch every game, not only the coaches, the whole team goes. We have fun, we all love each other we hang out we share stories.
I’m surprised we’re now 16-0 but I’m not surprised how well we’re playing. Our team has been together since Day One. I wish there were live cameras following us around, we’ve really been through a lot, our team worked so hard. We wept together, we bled together, we’re always with each other, through the ups and downs.
I kinda feel bad for them (teams without their chemistry). I feel they might have fun, but you gotta understand that not all fun is good fun. I wish they could understand how it feels to play in a team with a good program. A lot of teams that don’t play as a team, they don’t have a great program. Most of the time it’s between the player and the coach. Our program is the best. A lot of people ask me how come I didn’t play for Ateneo or any other school. Ateneo was training in California the same time as San Beda but I only met San Beda. I’m sure if I tried out for both Ateneo and San Beda I still would’ve chosen San Beda because once I saw them I loved the way they played. The Season 84 team with Sam Ekwe and Pong Escobal, they shared the ball, they helped each other and it was beautiful. It was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters, they were so in synch, you knew what anyone was going to do at a certain time, it was beautiful. In the States, everyone wanted to become Kobe Bryant. When I saw San Beda they played together. They passed up their open shot to give it to the next man, I thought, that’s me right there I’d do the same thing, I would fit right in here.
Sudan and I said goodbye as the gym was closing. There was a rally at Mendiola that day, and he was going home to his dorm nearby. Normally you’d worry about anyone in that environment, especially a 6’8 man you can spot a block away. Anyone else of course, except Sudan. I knew him now, and I know if he saw trouble, he would do the smart thing and keep away. ‘Cause that’s what Sudan does – the smart thing.