KNOXVILLE — James Daniel III graduated from Howard University this month, but the basketball player known as "J-Byrd" will remain a conversation topic around the school's Washington, D.C., campus for years to come.
"His impact on Howard basketball will be there for a long, long time," Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said Monday. "There will be a lot of J-Byrd stories for a long time, and I'm happy he was able to leave Howard with a degree and an opportunity to have a chance to create another chapter of his basketball legacy."
That next chapter looks like it will occur in Knoxville.
Daniel committed to play his senior season at Tennessee on Monday, under the NCAA graduate transfer rule. It's a major pickup for third-year coach Rick Barnes, who is trying to lead the Volunteers to their first NCAA tournament since 2014.
The 6-foot guard led the nation in scoring at Howard in 2015-16, averaging 27.1 points per game for a program often overshadowed on D.C.'s college basketball scene by Georgetown, George Washington, American and nearby George Mason. Daniel chose the Vols over Ohio State and DePaul, telling ESPN's Jeff Goodman that Barnes wants him to "be myself and attack."
The Hampton, Va., native did plenty of that in three seasons at Howard, and it paid dividends for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference program that plays in a home gym with a seating capacity of 2,700 just three miles from the White House.
"Many teams sought to play us last year on television, thinking it would be a terrific matchup," Howard athletic director Kery Davis said. "This past year, I think we had 12 games that were televised either on ESPN, Fox, Big Ten Network and so on. I think Daniel and his scoring had a lot to do with that."
Howard was the preseason favorite to win the MEAC last year with Daniel returning, but the Bison were hit hard by injuries, including an ankle injury to Daniel that kept him from playing in all but two games.
The NCAA granted him another year of eligibility, due to the injury. With a sociology degree in hand, Daniel began exploring graduate transfer options.
Though Nickelberry and Davis would have liked for their school's all-time leading scorer to play another season at Howard, both expressed that his reputation at the school is safe as he departs for the Southeastern Conference.
"He's a special player," Nickelberry said. "I've been at every level. I've been at Clemson, Charlotte, DePaul and coached a lot of very good players. He stands up there. He's a special player who could play at any level. We knew that when we got him. More than just a special player, he's a special kid.
"He's the dream type of kid you want, who gets it done in the classroom, gets it done on the court and he's never had any problems off the court."
Daniel's father coached fellow Hampton native Allen Iverson in high school, and those familiar with the two say their games are similar. Nickelberry also compared Daniel to Boston Celtics star Isaiah Thomas. All three are short by basketball standards but have a knack for scoring.
"He can drive, shoot the 3, can hit the mid-range shot, and he led our league in steals two of three years he was here," Nickelberry said. "And then out of nowhere sometimes he'll just go up and dunk on you."
Daniel found himself the regular target of opponents' game plans during his historic junior season in which he made 258 free throws.
National media then began paying attention to the program as Daniel lit up box scores, even against power conference opposition. Nickelberry and Davis agree that Daniel's contributions to the program have helped recruit better players to Howard.
"I think we're set up well in the future to compete with schools like Georgetown and George Washington," Davis said. "We're not there yet. I think having a player like Daniel is a huge step to help us get there and a foundational figure to help us get there. That is our plan and that is our goal."
Nickelberry remembers hosting a basketball camp at Hampton University when he coached there from 2006 to '09. A local 12-year-old showed up one year.
"I just remember this little skinny kid shooting from almost half court," Nickelberry said. "And I was saying, 'My gosh, who is this kid?'"
It was Daniel, and when Nickelberry left Hampton for Howard, he continued recruiting that scrawny kid. Daniel committed to Howard and honored the commitment, even as interest from other schools began pouring in during his final year of high school.
"He took a chance on us, and it's allowed other young men to take a chance on us," Nickelberry said. "We were able to sell (other players) on the fact that there was this kid with a lot of options and he chose to come to Howard because he believed he could be special.
"I don't think he's going to Tennessee unless Coach Barnes made him believe that team had a chance to be special and he had a huge place in helping them."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.