Union County has proven to be Arkansas’ richest source of football talent, but it appears one the state’s next great big men may also come from there. At 6’10” and fresh off a dominating performance at the prestigious Peach Jam tournament, El Dorado High junior Daniel Gafford has rocketed into the Top 40 and some national recruiting rankings and last week committed to the Razorbacks.
Gafford recently discussed the big news on The Carter Bryant Show on 103.7 FM in El Dorado. The big man and nowhere-near-as-big-man also talked about how Hog coaches compare him to Bobby Portis, his love for DeAndre Jordan and his mind-meltingly diverse musical skills. The follow interview as been edited and condensed for clarity.
Carter Bryant: Over the weekend you make the commitment to the Arkansas Razorbacks, why?
Daniel Gafford: ‘Cause I wanted, you know, I wanted the Arkansas people to kinda think of me in a Razorback jersey, I wanted them to see me, you know, representing our state of Arkansas and me playing with Arkansas and me doing like a lot of good things with the Razorbacks.
Carter Bryant: That’s awesome man, so what about Mike Anderson and the Razorbacks, what entices you about their program?
Daniel Gafford: I like their program. Its like, their program fits like my personality, like they play basketball the way I play. They get up and down the floor quick, they do everything like fast. That’s what I like about it.
Carter Bryant: You know the one thing a lot of people say about you to me is that you’re a team first guy and that’s something Coach Anderson preaches about all the time. Where does that come from for you?
Daniel Gafford: Um, it came out of no where, really (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Yeah, so what’s that like? What is it, you know, you got the Twitter, you got the Facebook, you got the Instagram fame, a lot of people know your name now, but you’re still the same even-keel guy. Why is that… where do those values come from?
Daniel Gafford: It comes from my mom. Yeah, she keeps me, you know, keeps my head level. She tells me not to get a big head and all that because you know, if I get a big head I’ll try to blow everything out of proportion and be like “I’m this and I’m that” and I don’t want do that. I don’t want to make a lot of people mad at me and all that.
Carter Bryant: How tough is it now that you have had some fame? I mean, a lot of people saw last year you take that next step. What’s been the biggest difficulty for you, has there been a big transition for you, with all this?
Daniel Gafford: … Biggest transition is getting my name out there you know. Not a lot of people knew me and that’s one of the biggest transitions. .
Carter Bryant: So lets talk about your summer. What was it like playing for the AAU Wings Elite team?
Daniel Gafford: It’s kinda cool ’cause like, you know, us being like such, you know, a good team, an athletic team, all the teams out there, you know, they hate us. They came at us with everything they had. Every time they seen the Wings, they’re like “Ah, I just want to beat them by at least 30.” And like when we got on the floor, it’s like we just changed that – we changed their minds – they bowed down to us every time we got on the floor because we would shut everybody up.
Carter Bryant: What was Peach Jam like? Walk us through the experience.
Daniel Gafford: Well, the first time I had went there I had watched our 17 and 16 year old’s play. I saw all the colleges’ coaches lined up across the sideline … and my eyes were wide open. Then, I actually got a chance this year to play on the court, looking at the coaches looking at us play and it gave me so much energy. I just showed out at the Peach Jam.
Carter Bryant: You know the one guy that kinda blew people away was Malik Monk, how good is that kid?
Daniel Gafford: Man, he’s very good. I’m not even gonna lie – he’s like one of the best players I’ve ever, you know, seen.
Carter Bryant: What makes him so good from a basketball perspective?
Daniel Gafford: It’s he’s unstoppable – he can get to the rack anytime he want.
Carter Bryant: There you go man. So, you know the Peach Jam was such a big thing for you, you know, I had a good buddy of mine, Evin, who was covering it for SB Nation, wrote a great story on Malik Monk, and he said you really stood out, and he actually reached out to me and said “Hey, do you know this kid from El Dorado, Daniel Gafford? He said you were putting up double doubles, on a big stage… So, lets go through the Arkansas recruitment process, when did they offer you, when did they reach out, and what was the time line for that for you?
Daniel Gafford: Well, they started recruiting me like in the 9th grade. They started looking at me in 9th grade and they came all the way up to this year at Peach Jam. They offered me the day after Peach Jam.
Carter Bryant: Walk us through getting an offer.
Daniel Gafford: Like, I was just, I had just woke up and like, I was laying down right next to one of the post players on the 17’s, and he was on the phone with ’em, he was talking to them. And they called me right after … they were comparing me to Bobby Portis and how I play like him and all that and then they said I had a scholarship there and I was like okay. They called my coach and he came into the room and he said I heard about your offer congratulations, I was like “Thank you.” It was like breath taking, I didn’t know what to say (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Wow! Dude, an offer to a program you love, man that is really cool. You know we talk Mike Anderson a little bit earlier, you know, what’s the grind been like for you? You know, I interviewed Bobby Portis a couple of months ago and he walked me through life for him growing up, what was life like for you growing up in El Dorado?
Daniel Gafford: It was, I would say, it wasn’t tough but it okayish, and like, you know, I grew up like I’m the tallest, you know, kid walking around school and all that. So, I got picked on a lot but it didn’t phase me that much. You know, I go home, play the game and all that, did crazy things. I was crazy back then when I was little, but I done grew out of all that stuff I used to do like just getting better and better as I go on.
Carter Bryant: You were crazy, how were you crazy?
Daniel Gafford: I was as what you say, a little – I was a rascal.
Carter Bryant: A rascal? I was too. I was crazy growing up, got into a lot of trouble. What was some of the rascal things, would you like pick on teachers or they would pick on you, what were some of the rascal things?
Daniel Gafford: I would usually try to be the class clown most of time (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Were you a spit ball champion, is that it?
Daniel Gafford: No, I just tried to make myself stand out even though I was already standing out ’cause of my height. I would try to do like stuff, like crazy stuff like hop over, hop on top of desks and all that.
Carter Bryant: (laughing) Were you successful?
Daniel Gafford: Every now and then it worked but no, not really (laughing).
Carter Bryant: So what does a failed desk jump attempt like? Did you base plan, you were fearless huh?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah, really (laughing)
Carter Bryant: You got love it. You know what’s cool, you said before this whole thing began, you never thought you would grow to 6’10” tall and then you hit a growth spurt – when did that happen for you?
Daniel Gafford: I would say it happened when I was coming up in 7th grade.
Carter Bryant: And how tall were you then?
Daniel Gafford: In 7th grade I was about 6-3, around 6-3 or 6-1, around something like that. Then when I got in the 8th grade, I sprinted up to, you know, 6-7, 6-8, I was like wow, I don’t know what happened. I guess it was something I was eating, I don’t know (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Wow, goodness gracious, kinda of like the Michael Jordan thing. He sprouted up just out of nowhere in high school, you just grow however many inches, its crazy. And uh, you’re a band guy, huh?
Daniel Gafford: Yes, sir.
Carter Bryant: What instrument you play and what was that like?
Daniel Gafford: I played like 3 different instruments, like first I started off with the clarinet, like that was during concert season. Then I had got upgraded to like a bigger version of the clarinet, that was a bass clarinet. I kept doing good and they moved me up to a contrabass clarinet but that was too big to go play during marching season, so I got moved to bass drum. So, I was playing like 4 different instruments.
Carter Bryant: Dude, that’s wonderful. That kind of describes your basketball game, you are a man of many talents… You know its funny because basketball did come very naturally to you, like, I’ve seen you develop, I watched you develop this year for El Dorado. There were some games where you just took over. I remember Little Rock Parkview -- they were really really good this year – but the 3rd quarter of that game there was 10 possessions for El Dorado, you finished, I think 7 of them with dunks.
It was literally them throwing the ball up in the air, you catching it and you dunking it in. What goes through your head to just hit that beast mode and keep your team engaged?
Daniel Gafford: I feel like I can just channel anger you know, something that’s inside I think about and I can turn that into, you know, energy on the court. If I just use that, it’ll get my adrenaline pumping, like if I’m just on the court and use all that, like I’m unstoppable.
Carter Bryant: You and Czar Perry man, ya’ll can make a run at state this year, how ’bout it?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah, I think we can.
Carter Bryant: God, what’s its like playing with him?
Daniel Gafford: Its fun. Like the way he plays its just crazy. He’s, yeah I’m just saying, he’s crazy.
Carter Bryant: Dude, it is crazy. Ya’ll play exciting basketball. What’s it like playing for Gary Simmons?
Daniel Gafford: It’s fun playing for him. He’s a real cool coach. He’s laid back until you make him mad (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Really, what’s that like?
Daniel Gafford: It’s something you don’t want to see (laughing).
Carter Bryant: … What does El Dorado basketball mean to you, playing for the community you love so much?
Daniel Gafford: Well playing for El Dorado means a lot, ’cause you know I got people to come watch us play, you know, I like it when people come watch us play, ’cause that gives us, you know, that gives us hope to actually win stuff. I think it was year before last, our varsity team didn’t win nothing but 9 games … then, you know, we got to where our community started to come to the games, and that brought us up a little bit and we had started winning more, winning like back to back, back to back games. This year our record was 20 and 6.
Carter Bryant: You average over 6 blocks a game, how?
Daniel Gafford: I really don’t even know.
Carter Bryant: (laughing)
Daniel Gafford: I just go for everything the opponent just throws up. Like I try to send every thing off the backboard, I try to throw it out of bounds, like whatever can keep them from scoring, I’m gonna try to do it.
Carter Bryant: What the nastiest dunk you had ever? Have you ever just dunked on somebody?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah, that’s when we had played at Benton. We played, we went to Benton, and Tristin Simmons, he was coming, he had, you know, blew pass the guard from Benton. He threw it up and it was a bad alley, I’m not gonna lie, it was a bad alley, and there was somebody under the goal. I thought I wasn’t gonna get it up, I tried, you know, grab it and just lay it in, like off the backboard. But I grabbed it and I didn’t see how far I was to the goal and I just threw it in, and like I was on top of one of the Benton players.
Carter Bryant: Went full Blake Griffin on ’em, huh?
Daniel Gafford: Yes sir.
Carter Bryant: You said before the interview, your favorite player is DeAndre Jordan.
Daniel Gafford: Yes sir.
Carter Bryant: Why’s that?
Daniel Gafford: ‘Cause, you know, the way he finishes in around the basket – his athleticism, it’s crazy, like how he finishes above the rim and everything. I just think he still needs to work on his free throws though.
Carter Bryant: Yeah, you can shoot free throws better than him.
Daniel Gafford: (laughing) [pause] [serious voice] Yeah, you can say that.
Carter Bryant: Yeah (laughing). So, he was very indecisive about where he was going to go. Do you think he made the right decision, in staying with the Clippers and playing with Chris and Blake?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah, I think he did make the right decision ’cause you know, I think, they put a bunch of teams up for a run for their money. When those 3 are on the court together, it’s like they’re unstoppable.
Carter Bryant: Who are some of your other favorite players in the NBA?
Daniel Gafford: Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Westbrook, its lot of them, I have to say.
Carter Bryant: Would LeBron James beat Michael Jordan?
Daniel Gafford: No (laughing).
Carter Bryant: Well you’re wearing some fresh pair of [Jordan]’s, that’s probably part of it (laughing).
Daniel Gafford: Even though LeBron thinks he’s the best player in the world, I don’t think he can do that.
Carter Bryant: Do you think he’s the best player in the world now?
Daniel Gafford: I mean he says he is, I don’t think he is.
Carter Bryant: Well whose better than LeBron?
Daniel Gafford: I would say Jordan, but he’s not playing anymore.
Carter Bryant: So, what’s it gonna take to get better, what’s it gonna take the next step, what are some things do you need to work on?
Daniel Gafford: I need to work on ball handling, shooting the ball. I need to work on my footwork a little bit more. I need to get back to where I can get my shot blocking skills back to where they were, because I’m off that a little bit.
Carter Bryant: I want to ask you a couple of questions about our culture in El Dorado. Did you like growing up here? Did you enjoy it, was it a fun environment for you?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah it kinda was, at times.I would have fun one week and the next week it would be like a total disaster throughout the whole week. I would go to like, you know, the local hangouts and all that…
Carter Bryant: Were there any big challenges you had to face growing up with, was there any adversity you had to deal with early in your life to get to where you are right now?
Daniel Gafford: The biggest thing that really had me down, like not wanting to do anything when my grandma passed. It was like back in 2007. Yeah it was like, she was the best person in the world to me, that she did anything, she would help my mom with everything with us. She would let us come over, spend the night if we didn’t want to stay home. She would literally carry us, yes she would raise us if our mom wasn’t like capable of doing it.
Carter Bryant: Because your mom would be at work.
Daniel Gafford: Yes sir, and like the way she would like treat us, it was like we weren’t going through tough times, like that’s the way she would treat us. She was so happy, she would never complain about anything. She was in church, she was a church woman, she never stopped going to church. That was like the best thing I liked about her.
Carter Bryant: That’s awesome, that really is awesome. Daniel Gafford. I’m telling you this kid is fantastic… Are you gonna make it to the NBA one day, is that the plan?
Daniel Gafford: That’s my plan.
Carter Bryant: What’s it gonna take to get there?
Daniel Gafford: Hard work.
Carter Bryant: So has any NBA player or any Bobby Portis reached out to you or given any advice?
Daniel Gafford: Um, I can’t remember, that’s one thing I can’t remember.
Carter Bryant: Well hopefully, Corliss Williamson and some other people will start recognizing… I have to say this to you, Daniel, you’re the best player I’ve ever seen put an El Dorado uniform on, since I’ve been watching El Dorado basketball since early 2000. There have been a lot of players, I think that you’re one of the best. You have the chance to be one of the greats in El Dorado basketball history, what would you say about that, do you feel that pressure?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah I feel it a little bit.
Carter Bryant: You do ?
Daniel Gafford: Yeah, a little bit.
Carter Bryant: Is it just because of me or have you felt it from outside forces as well?
Daniel Gafford: No, I haven’t felt it…