Best knew best when speaking about junior center Daniya Darby.
“She did some nice things for us last year,” Best said of the 6-foot Darby. “I knew she had the capability of being a dominant player for us. I expected her to have a good year. I don’t think people realized how good she could be. I thought she could be a dominant center. I really expected her to be a possible Player of the Year-type caliber.”
Sure enough, nine games into the 2017-18 season, Darby has been exactly that _ the most dominant player in Hudson County and one of the premier post performers in the entire state of New Jersey.
Darby has collected double figures in both points and rebounds in seven of the Lady Lions’ first nine games. In basketball jargon, those are considered double-doubles. She’s averaging 17 points and 13.2 rebounds per game.
“I try hard to get the double-doubles,” Darby said. “I always keep that in mind. The more I push myself, the more I can get to my goal. I knew I could do some good things if I kept my mind to it. When I check my statistics, I get so surprised, because I say to myself, ‘Did I just do that?’ It motivates me to keep going.”
In recent games, Darby had 21 points and 12 rebounds against Newark Tech, 29 points and 15 rebounds against Holmdel, 28 points and 15 rebounds against Mater Dei and 22 points and 13 rebounds against local rival Hudson Catholic. Darby has the Lions roaring out to an 8-1 record thus far.
For her efforts, Darby has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Darby anticipated having a solid junior year by playing for two teams over the summer, the Lincoln team in local summer leagues and the respected AAU program, the New Jersey Sparks.
“It helped me a lot to play as much as I did,” Darby said. “It made me realize that I had to take this [playing basketball] more seriously. I really felt if I worked hard in the summer that it would help my team. I had a good summer.”
Best noticed what playing against the top competition has meant for Darby.
“She has a lot of experience now playing in big games,” Best said. “It’s helped her become so much better. Playing AAU helped her basketball IQ. She knew how much she needed to do.”
Darby said that she is also motivated by living up to the standards set by two former Lincoln standout post players, namely Breana Bey, the 2012-13 Hudson Reporter Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, and Kiante Johnson, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team honoree who graduated from Lincoln three years ago.
“I heard about Breana,” Darby said of Bey, who played NCAA Division I basketball at Stetson University and later signed a professional contract to play in Ireland. “I knew that she was the main person back then. Kiante is someone I look up to all the time. She comes to practices sometimes to work with me. She’s a great player. It means a lot when people say I can be like them.”
Johnson recently played at Union County College, where former Lady Lions standout Destiny Shuler currently plays, along with former Hudson Catholic great Tania Scott.
Darby wants to be as good as Bey and Johnson were for the Lady Lions.
“It’s what I think about 24/7,” Darby said. “As soon as I walk into through the gym’s doors, it’s in my mind to be the best.”
So far, that approach is apparently working.
“I really expect her to do more,” said Best, who was a standout player himself at Lincoln and later St. Peter’s University. “She can get even better. I want her to be more of a complete player. I want her to be the best. Sometimes, she doesn’t play as aggressively as I would like. When she does that, she’s dominant. She can shoot with both hands and has a nice little jump shot. She’s working on her ball handling. She really can be on the same level as Breana Bey and Kiante Johnson.”
Best said that Darby doesn’t fully understand how good she can be.
“I don’t think she realizes how good she is,” Best said. “I keep on telling her that she could eventually become a very good college player.”
That’s music to Darby’s ears.
“I think about college all the time,” Darby said. “It would make my dreams come true.”
Darby knows that in order to secure a college scholarship, she’s going to have to improve in another important aspect -- her schoolwork.
“I’m actually in a little slump there,” Darby said about her grades. “I’m more focused now and doing better. I’m trying to work at that and get my grades back up.”
Best loves Darby’s personality.
“She is a great teammate,” Best said. “She’s a little quiet. I tell her that she needs to get a little meaner. But the sky’s the limit for her. If she does the work on and off the court, she can be the best player in the county. She has to keep the desire to get better and put in the work. If she does that, then she has to be considered for Player of the Year, because she’s been that dominant.”
The double-doubles say it all.
Darby also comes from good athletic stock. She is the cousin to former Lincoln standout football player Frank Darby, currently making his mark as a wide receiver at Arizona State who caught a touchdown pass in the Sun Devils’ loss to North Carolina State in the Sun Bowl three weeks ago, and current Lincoln boys’ basketball player Donte Darby, who is averaging 16 points per game for the Lions.
Both Daniya and Donte are juniors, so the Darby family can make their presence felt at Lincoln for the remainder of this season and next.
“We grew up together,” Daniya Darby said of her beloved cousin. “I think it helps that we’re all connected in that way.”
The Darbys are connected in winning as well, because the Lincoln boys own a 5-2 record thus far. Needless to say, there have been some good times in the Lions’ den this season.
“I’m actually surprised and excited,” Daniya Darby said. “We just have to keep it going.” – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.