Basketball brat

Military upbringing helped shape Daniels






Daniels is an Army daughter. Her parents, Wynetta and Kenny Daniels, met in 1992 at Fort Bragg, N.C., while serving on the U.S. Army base. The couple married in 1993, and in December 2000 welcomed Makayla at a hospital in Fayetteville, N.C. Unbeknownst to her parents, she would make a name for herself in another Fayetteville down the road. “I would say the military has prepared Makayla for this move today,” Kenny Daniels said. “She came here to Arkansas alone. After being in the military traveling the way she’s traveled, distance-wise it’s far away, but she’s done it all of life. We pick up we go. It’s just a way of the military.” After moving to Arizona in 2001 and living there for roughly 18 months, the Daniels family embarked on a seven-year stint in Japan. They were stationed at Camp Zama, which is 25 miles southwest of Tokyo. Wynetta Daniels’ brother, who also served in the military, was coincidentally assigned the same location. He was oftentimes tasked with watching Makalya and her siblings. “Everywhere that I went, somehow my brother was always there,” Wynetta said. “We never asked to be stationed together but just out of the blue, he would always end up being stationed in the same place as me. It was it was very nice because it helped us out a lot, especially when we were overseas. When we didn’t have anyone to watch the kids, he would if he didn’t have anything going on.” Living the military life overseas provided Makayla some unique experiences. When granted the opportunity, Wynetta and Kenny liked to take advantage of MAC flights, the little-to-no-charge military operational flights with extra seats, oftentimes going to visit friends in other places such as Italy, Singapore and Malaysia. Makayla and her two siblings would go with them. “In a military aircraft, the ones that go to combat, where you’re sitting there’s no seats,” Kenny said. “It’s just the cargo nets. Memories she’ll never forget.” While overseas, her parents prodded her to try playing basketball, but it came with no succeess. “The first time I picked up the ball, I hated it,” Makayla said. “I did not want to play basketball. My whole family pretty much played basketball and they tried to get me into it, but I just I didn’t like it because I wasn’t good at it. Soccer I was better at and that’s what I wanted to do.” Wynetta kept trying to convince her to give the sport a shot. “By the time I was in third grade, I tried again,” Makayla said. “My mom was my coach, and it was not an enjoyable experience.” It’s a memory her mother remembers vividly, but now lightheartedly. “I was her coach which was not a good thing,” Wynetta said. “It did not turn out well.” After both Wynetta and Kenny were retired from active duty, the family decided it was time to make a return to the U.S. They landed in Maryland to work at Fort Meade, and found a home in Frederick, which is part of the Baltimore–Washington D.C. metro area. It’s where they stive reside, and where Makayla decided to give basketball another chance. This time around, she not only enjoyed the game, but was good at it. In fact, too good to keep playing with other girls. “Had a reason to move her over to the boys, when nobody on the girls can stop you,” Kenny said. “We need to continue to try to get better, so the boys’ team was the next option.” As it turned out, she was too tall a challenge for the boys as well. “Boys, in any game, aren’t going to let a girl dominate,” Kenny said. “She was dominating.” “I just didn’t think anything of it,” Makayla said. “I mean, boys are just boys in fifth grade and sixth grade. I played AAU with boys, and you know, if a girl is beating a boy, they’re usually a little upset. I upset a few boys at that time.” Kenny picked up on another trait from a young age. “She just wants to win by any means necessary,” he said. “She hates carrots; absolutely hates them. I knew she was different when one day she said if at school they had a carrot-eating contest, she was going to eat them and was going to win. It’s just that mentality that she just wants to win. She he puts in the work, she’s gifted, she’s talented, she’s blessed, but she really just wants to win.” One of the boys she played against was the brother of her Razorback teammate Saylor Poffenbarger, who is also from Maryland. It was the Daniels family’s relationship with Saylor’s mother Amy, who knew Arkansas assistant coach Lacey Goldwire, that eventually helped Makalya get on the Hogs’ radar. “I refer to them for a lot,” Wynetta said of the Poffenbargers. “Like she introduced us to Lacey. We knew Makayla was good, but we didn’t know she was Division I good. Amy kept saying she thought Makayla was special, and that we needed to take her more places to play. Our first trip was to Iowa, to see how great she was. I don’t tell her this to her face, but when I saw her at that workout, I was impressed. I was thinking, ‘Girl, you really might have it.’ “That family did a lot for us, and they still do today. This is so fun, really how small the world is that you still end up in the same place with somebody.” Makalya got pulled from playing the boys when she entered middle school, as they started getting more physical with her because she was beating them. “It started OK, but then as she got older, boys aren’t going to like that you’re crossing them up or you’re taking the ball from them,” Wynetta said. “So when it got kind of hostile, we had to take her out from the boys because it just wasn’t a great feeling.” She and Poffenbarger played on travel teams together and maintained a relationship through the years. By the time Makayla was a junior in high school, she had committed to play for Arkansas. Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said one thing stood out about Daniels to him: her maturity. It’s something he gives credit to her upbringing. “From her visit to our campus to her home visit, it was obvious that this kid was thinking at a different age than her birth certificate said,” Neighbors said. “You know, she wasn’t your typical 17–, 18-year-old kid. In her approach, in the way she saw the world and she saw basketball, it was the perfect thing that we needed at that time. When she got here, she just continued to deliver. “I do always go back. It starts with our support system. Her mom and her dad, her family. When she had her graduation party here last year, there were people from Oklahoma and Maryland, everywhere in between. She’s got an unbelievable family. She’s had unbelievable youth coaches and high school coaches.” She was given trust from the get-go as a freshman, gaining a starting position by the season opener. “Honestly, I was shocked,” Makayla said. “Coming into college I had no like set goal like I want to play this many minutes or I want to start, honestly I thought I would come here and maybe have to sit on the bench for a while and wait my turn. So I was surprised to earn their trust that quick. I just came in and worked hard every day, made sure I got extra shots up, and doing that was how I earned my teammates trust and my coaches’ trust.” Entering the team’s Nov. 20 game this year against Arkansas-Little Rock, her 91 career starts were 11 shy of cracking the school’s all-time top 10 in the category. She is also slowly climbing the program scoring record book with her 1,060 collegiate points ranking 28th. Despite her accolades on the court, Makayla’s parents are primarily proud of something done off the court. “She graduated in three years,” Wynetta said. “When she told me last year, ‘I’m going to graduate this year,’ I told her that’s not possible. Of course, I call the education side and they were like, ‘It really is possible.’ She came here the day after she graduated (high school) and went straight into summer school. Now she’s going to get her Master’s, too, while holding her grade point average. I think that’s phenomenal in itself.” “The most impressive work to me is academic,” Kenny said. “Basketball is second. You aren’t going to bounce the ball for the rest of your life.” Since she arrived at Arkansas, her parents have rarely missed a game. “Last year I think I missed one game,” Kenny said. “You just have to make a conscious effort. She’s here for four years, maybe five. After that, it’ll be over. So we want to be a part of it. There’s going to come a point in time next year when she’s done. It’ll be over. Then what are we going to do? We just make the effort put in the time to sacrifice and be here.” If there’s been one thing constant for Makayla throughout living in three states and two countries, it has been the love she’s felt. “My biggest inspiration is definitely my parents,” Makayla said. “They gave me probably the greatest childhood I could ever imagine. They were always there for me and come to every almost every game, I think growing up. I remember my parents missing maybe one game and that was an AAU tournament, which wasn’t a big game or anything. It’s just their work ethic. That’s just my inspiration. I want to live my life like them.”