Just like many great basketball players that we’ve all come to know, Lenny Daniel is no stranger to American football, and perhaps, had it not been for basketball, we might be seeing him lace up the cleats on Sundays. In fact, the 30-year-old Daniel is a loyal and avid fan of the National Football League’s (NFL) Minnesota Vikings, a team which he still tries to keep up with whenever time permits, even now with him currently residing in Taiwan.
At the young age of 16, the power-forward was tasked with a difficult decision that many gifted and athletic young Americans are faced with: choosing between football and basketball. In a decision that would ultimately embark him on the journey towards where he is today, trading in a face-masked helmet and clunky shoulder pads that rattle for kicks that squeak on maple-wood floors glistening with sheen didn’t come easy.
For Daniel, the choice to pursue basketball was a hard-thought, grueling process, especially since according to him, going back to that situation 14 years ago, he recalls himself as a “kid who didn’t show great potential in basketball” at the time. He knew that in order to elevate himself, it would require extra hours and sweat just to be sure he was able to grasp a spot in the demanding world of basketball.
Growing up in Los Angeles, California, no spoiler-alert is needed before learning that the 6’8” Daniel is a fan of recently double-number-retired Lakers great Kobe Bryant. However, dissecting the energy-enthused and highly athletic game that Lenny possesses is more reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett. Daniel even goes so far as to mention that he models parts of his game after the “Big Ticket,” from energizing the crowd, to playing the game he loves with heart.
Lenny Daniel is one of the few current imports who have played in the ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) for three consecutive seasons, which in turn, puts him in a good position to share his thoughts about the fast-growing regional league.
To start things off, he mentions that the marketing of the ABL has been “nothing but tremendous compared to other leagues.” Not only does it appeal to basketball-hungry fans within the Southeast Asian region, but people overseas also pay high attention to the league, with reviews having been positive so far. Moreover, the expansion of the league to teams that include countries from outside of the ASEAN region – Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan – along with re-entries from regional powerhouses like Indonesia and Thailand certainly bring fans together in support of the high-level competition.
Additionally, the ABL seems to be benefiting from its recent expansion, with more Chinese-speaking fans following league news and showing interest in doing homework on other teams.
To further elaborate on the ABL, Lenny was quick to point out that the heritage import slots implemented by the league is a unique characteristic. The two all-important roster spots are rising rapidly in terms of competitiveness, giving players with qualifying credentials opportunities not only to pursue a professional status, but also to flex their basketball muscles to fans who can relate and support them with pride among a common heritage level.
It may be true that some heritage imports like Tyler Lamb, Matthew Wright, and Jason Brickman have pushed overall league competition to another level, but locals should continue to benefit from training and playing alongside them.
“I was very frustrated and down because I couldn’t figure out how to be a reliable leader for my teammates, and I still have to take care of my game at the same time.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the offseason leading up to ABL 8 was the release of Daniel from the Saigon Heat, a move that hit just about every follower of the league like a storm in the middle of summer. He was, arguably, the face of the franchise if we’re not including ex-teammate David Arnold, even signing on with the organization for the 2017-2018 season following the end of their playoff run against Hong Kong just a year ago. Knowing now that things didn’t work out as originally planned, Daniel was left with no other choice but to part ways with the passionate Vietnamese fanbase that had come to appreciate and adore him.
But when God closes one door, he opens up another.
PHOTO CREDIT: ONVISA THEWPHAINGARM / ASEAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE
About just as quick as his release from the Heat, Daniel was in Taiwan for an open tryout, knowing that the Formosa Dreamers were looking for a world import, paying for travel expenses out of his own pocket. During the audition, he wasn’t in optimal physical condition, at least, not in the basketball condition he had hoped for. Despite the obstacles, he performed well enough to impress the Dreamers’ coaching staff and their higher-ups, not only with his skillset, but also with his mental toughness that could pay dividends in having a positive impact on the Taiwanese team, similar to how he did two years ago in Vietnam.
From being an ABL rookie with the Saigon Heat, to now the veteran presence on an ambitious Formosa Dreamers team, the task of trying to help elevate such a young group would be a challenge, even for Daniel, but it’s a role he doesn’t shy away from. As an indicator for the tough road ahead, things didn’t go too smoothly during the first few team practices.
“I was very frustrated and down because I couldn’t figure out how to be a reliable leader for my teammates, and I still have to take care of my game at the same time,” the newly anointed leader would say about the situation he had found himself in.
There was a long meeting among players, coaches and management about the ongoing issue, and Daniel voiced his thoughts to the team about the struggles he was facing. In light of things, all of the players and staff still chose to put their trust and faith in the American power-forward, believing that he was the right person to lead the young team into their first professional season.
It was in that very moment that Daniel realized the opportunity that had presented itself was a rare chance. One which many players can only dream and ponder about, so he took the blessing and relished the role with pride as best as he could. It continues to be a work in progress, and he admits that he is still learning the ins-and-outs of becoming a great leader, trying to tone down his body language when teammates make mistakes, and remembering to be vocal on the court while leading by example.
After the Dreamers’ release of injured ASEAN import James Forrester, the team has been holding onto two heritage import vacancies which could potentially be game-changers. In Lenny’s perspective, he believes an experienced point guard who possesses court vision and a knack for facilitating, in addition to an intense defensive drive, would be a major boost to the team, name-dropping Mono Vampire’s Jason Brickman as an example.
“Singapore wasn’t doing particularly well during their first few seasons, but they learned and developed the foundation, and now, they are one of the top teams here in the ABL.”
Don’t get it twisted though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that his current teammates are doing a terrible job. Daniel actually acknowledges his appreciation for his guys like Yang Tian You and Wu Sung Wei, who have taken upon the challenges of the league and have excelled in recent games.
However, it takes more than that when you’re competing against top-notch guards like Akeem Scott, Marcus Elliot, and Anthony Tucker. Hence, he believes an addition along the likes of the league’s best two-way perimeter wings and ball-handlers can surely up the Dreamers’ outlook.
Through eight games, the Dreamers haven’t performed particularly well in ABL 8, as they currently sit in last place, but Daniel and the organization understand it’s a process that every great team has to go through on their way to the top, especially in a league that has become more competitive than ever. He uses Hong Kong Eastern and the Singapore Slingers as two prime, albeit, different examples to illustrate the importance of a strong foundation for any competitive team.
“Hong Kong was finding the [league’s] pace and themselves the first few games last season, then they adapted well. Singapore wasn’t doing particularly well during their first few seasons, but they learned and developed the foundation, and now, they are one of the top teams here in the ABL.”
In some ways, the Formosa Dreamers are following the same routes in their first professional season. It’s a learning process in which they’ve been adapting themselves to the standards and culture of the league. Therefore, the team’s bosses and coaches aren’t rushing things, but rather, hoping that players will understand what it takes to become a professional basketball player and handling their job seriously. With that, the Dreamers could make some noise in upcoming seasons.
Changing directions to focus more on the cultural exposure of Lenny’s transition to Taiwan, the beautiful country offers a plethora of wonderful people and a developed infrastructure. He portrays his experience through the people he’s come across. Grateful for their kind, friendly-nature towards him regardless of where he goes, even despite the obvious language barrier that the move has created, the warm-welcoming hearts of the Taiwanese people make it easy to overlook that.
All-in-all, his journey to Taiwan is taken as a blessing, one where he is constantly met by fans and individuals at neighboring malls who haven’t been shy in asserting their support and words of encouragement for himself and the team. It’s something that no one can ever take for granted.
And he’s proud to call Taichung a home as a member of the Formosa Dreamers.
“I’m close with all the imports honestly. We have good relationships off the court, with guys like Tyler Lamb, Joshua Munzon, Justin Howard, and a whole lot of others.”
Furthermore, the world import is grateful to have teammate Charles Barratt as a personal tour guide and translator when they’re out on local trips. The two have been able to share plenty of wonderful moments, looking after each other like brothers. Interestingly enough, Daniel is also close with team co-founder Jonathan Han who helped him welcome in 2018 with a Taiwanese-flare during the New Year’s countdown in Taipei, while also sharing local tips about Taiwan.
As a closing part of the interview with Lenny, he also told me about his friendship with players from other teams.
“I’m close with all the imports honestly. We have good relationships off the court, with guys like Tyler Lamb, Joshua Munzon, Justin Howard, and a whole lot of others. I can’t name them all, but we are all cool after games. I would describe it as a brotherhood.”
Upon learning that Christien Charles had signed with the Singapore Slingers, Lenny was ecstatic for his fellow American big-man and ABL veteran. They had both spent a great deal of time with one another during their personal strength and conditioning sessions during the offseason, with Daniel describing the bond between the two as “something special.”
Just in case you are new to the ABL, Lenny carries with him a great personality off the court. He’s simply someone that everybody loves to be around and joke with. On the court, he’s a fearless beast who doesn’t back down to any challenges posed to him, and is a highly respectable figure in the league.
Despite his team experiencing growing pains, fans should still give respect and credit where it’s due for a young team that is still progressing and has fought, and will continue to fight against giants that they’ve never faced before in their careers.
ASEAN Sports wishes Lenny Daniel nothing but the best in your career and we certainly hope to see you again.