Joe Kleine likes what he sees in Daniel Gafford

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Monday, April 10, 2017
El Dorado's Daniel Gafford comes down with a rebound against Jonesboro during the Boys 6A Championship at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs on Friday, March 10, 2017.
( Mitchell PE Masilun)
El Dorado's Daniel Gafford comes down with a rebound against Jonesboro during the Boys 6A Championship at the Bank of the Ozarks Arena in Hot Springs on Friday, March 10, 2017.

— One of the best big men in Arkansas' program history had the chance to see the next in the line this weekend and came away impressed.

Former Razorback and NBA player Joe Kleine coached Arkansas center signee Daniel Gafford (6-11, 223) Saturday night in the Mike Conley All-Star Challenge at Memphis University High School.

Gafford earned MVP honors with 16 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks while leading Arkansas to a 105-81 win over Tennessee.

“I like his size and I like his length,” Kleine said. “He is every bit of 6-11, maybe more. He has got good hands and obviously with his jumping ability he finishes really good around the basket. He is a good defender with his length, really blocks or alters a lot of shots and any coach really likes that because it makes up for a lot of mistakes others make defensively.”

Kleine, a two-time All-Southwest Conference pick and an 1984 Olympic team member, averaged 22.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game as a senior for Arkansas and was the No. 6 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. He played 15 seasons in the NBA with Sacramento, Boston, Phoenix, Portland, New Jersey and Chicago, where he won an NBA title alongside Michael Jordan in 1998.

Kleine, who also played with NBA legends Larry Bird and Charles Barkley, and Gafford were measured Saturday night and both were 6-11.

“I’m 6-11 on the way down and Daniel is 6-11 on the way up,” Kleine said.

Gafford, a four-star prospect that ESPN has ranked as the No. 43 player in the country, averaged 17.4 points, 16 rebounds and 7.7 blocks per game this season.

He is a part of a 2017 class that is ranked 18th nationally and fourth in the SEC by ESPN and also includes Little Rock Parkview four-star guard Khalil Garland (6-6, 190) and Little Rock Mills’ four-star forward Darious Hall (6-7, 210), who had 20 points Saturday night.

It is hoped that Gafford - who had 28 double-doubles and 15 triple-doubles this season, will able to mitigate the loss of Arkansas senior center Moses Kingsley, especially on defense and the boards.

“Another thing I like is that he is a really good rebounder and has a mental toughness about him,” Kleine said. “He has really good instincts for an offensive rebounder. He doesn’t just rebound in his area. He chases balls, which is good. He’s got a great motor and is willing to run.”

Kleine knows there is a world of potential in Gafford, who led his team to the Class 6A state title game.

“He just has so much upside,” Kleine said. 
“I have just been around him three or four times and he may not know who I am from Adam, but he was just very coachable, receptive and respectful and wanted to learn. He played hard for us all night and you don’t get that all the time in an all-star game.”

Kleine, a former assistant coach at UALR, knows Arkansas will do its best to put strength and weight on Gafford when he arrives on campus in late May.

“He has got to get to where he can absorb some hits and play through his defender,” Kleine said. “It’s also important for to be able to block out guys on the next level. He doesn’t have to be able to move somebody three feet, but when he boxes out or lays into somebody to post up, you don’t want them bouncing off you, you want to hold your position.”

Getting to play against guys his same size or bigger than him will elevate his level of play according to Kleine.

“I think it is critical that he learns to play a little lower, but that is typical with most young, big kids,” Kleine said. “They all play so upright, but you really use a lot of leverage, but not getting low.

“….He was able to do whatever he wanted to in high school because he was so much bigger than everybody else, but now he will go up against guys of similar size in practice and in games and it will make him better and reach his potential.

“It takes bigger guys longer to catch on to technique in high school because they don't see a lot of guys who are similar to them.”


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