Daniel in the Lions den
A quick look at Daniel Waldin-Mullings’ statistics for the Niagara River Lions makes it clear how important he is for the Canadian Elite Basketball League squad.
Heading into a Wednesday home game, the 30-year-old Toronto native had played in 10 games for River Lions this season and started seven. He was averaging 25 minutes, 9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a team-leading 2.1 steals per game.
Impressive numbers, for sure, but they don’t begin to tell how big his role is with the team.
“Me, him and Antwi (head of basketball operations and co-general manager Atuahene) have been having discussions over the last year about him becoming a great leader and it is something that he has always wanted to do,” said Victor Raso, Niagara’s head coach and co-general manager. “He really has a good mind, he can connect with guys and he wants that responsibility.”
Raso is thrilled with what Waldin-Mullings is providing to Niagara this season from a leadership perspective.
“He is all in, he has guys on the same page, he is making sure guys’ habits are good, he is making sure our energy is right and that level of responsibility has translated into him knowing he can’t take any days off,” he said. “When he is a leader and he is doing everything on the floor, he is the easiest guy to play hard for because he is always playing hard.”
Waldin-Mullings feels he is still progressing as a basketball player.
“I am one of the vets but you can never be satisfied where you are and you have to continue striving to get better and keep on elevating.”
He feels his biggest strides have come in his leadership abilities.
“It’s being an all-around leader, whether it is on the court or off the court, and understanding that every day you have to bring it even on days where you might not feel it,” the 6-foot-3 guard said. “You might be sore or things are not going well off the court but you have to remember that you have a group of guys you have to lead.”
On the court, he knows what he has to do from a physical standpoint.
“First and foremost, I have to bring energy, especially starting with the defensive side. Knowing how talented our team is offensively and defensively, if they see that I am locked in on the defensive end of the floor, I feel they will follow suit.”
It was an easy decision for him to return to Niagara.
“It was the hospitality, the team and the culture that we have built and established here. It is like a family here.”
He describes the culture as competitive, being in the moment, enjoying the journey, caring for one another and wanting everyone to do well.
Enjoying the ride is an important part of that culture.
“We all want to win and compete but at the end of the day we have to remember that this is still the summertime and we are all sacrificing our time with our families. We have to enjoy it.”
Making sacrifices is all part of being a basketball player.
“It is sacrificing the time we have in the summertime to be a part of something special and going towards our goal of winning a championship.”
Last season, Waldin-Mullings averaged 7.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and was named the winner of the Ben Zwolak Community Ambassador Award. He took a lot of pride in that award that recognizes leadership and community involvement. Being part of the community is important to him and his teammates.
“We are here for the summertime and important to get in touch with everybody and let them know we have a good thing going on here,” the former New Mexico State scholarship player said. “We are excited to be around the region, not just playing here but being in the city and communicating with the kids who come to the games. We want them to understand that we are reachable.”
Away from the court, Waldin-Mullings spends a lot of time with his four-year-old daughter Zarrah.
“She likes to run around and is very active so I take her to parks and she loves the water. Whenever I can, I get her to the water and I try to spend as much quality time as possible.”
That quality time with Zarrah is not available in the winter when he is playing overseas.
“Any time I can it is very important to build that bond, especially in person. It is different than over the phone and there’s nothing like seeing your kid grow right before your eyes.”
He also spends his spare time working on his business, Unlocked Souls, which includes life skills coaching and a clothing line.
His work with Unlocked Souls is setting the course for life beyond basketball.
“I am working on it now so that it is in motion. When it is time for me to end my basketball career, I can roll right into it.”
In a 97-69 victory over the visiting Edmonton Stingers Wednesday night, Waldin-Mullings had four points in 14:50 of playing time as he played through foul trouble.
Top performers for Niagara were: Jaylen Babb Harrison with 24 points and six rebounds; Elijah Mitrou-Long with 23 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals; Khalil Ahmad with 20 points and six steals; and, Tijdan Keita with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Top scorers for Edmonton were Jordan Baker (18), Aher Aguak (12) and Jahmal Jones (10).
Next up for Niagara (9-4) is a 7 p.m. Saturday home game against the Guelph Nighthawks (6-6).