Dribbling to Destiny: Imani Daniel faces elite competition at U.S. Open Basketball Championships

Published 11:22 am Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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GRAMERCY — Rising basketball star Imani Daniel has traveled back and forth from Gramercy to Texas for a chance to compete at an elite level, all while excelling in her high school honors and dual enrollment classes. The sacrifices she’s made along the way led her to compete alongside the top-ranked girls in the nation during the U.S. Open Women’s Basketball Championship, hosted July 28-31 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Daniel’s team is ranked fifth overall in the country among 16-year-olds. During the U.S. Open, she had the opportunity to not only sharpen her skills on the court, but also partake in life skills courses to give her an edge up in the college recruiting process, the transfer portal, and the pathway to professional opportunities.

After high school, Daniel hopes to select a Division I school that fits her long-term goal of playing on the professional level, whether that ends up being with the WNBA or overseas.

According to Daniel, the most challenging part of playing at the elite level has been battling with her mental state when she sees all of the talent that surrounds her. The CyFair Elite Youth Basketball program  features Aaliyah Chavez, known as the top recruit in the nation for the class of 2025, as well as Shaquille O’Neal’s daughter, Me’Arah, and a host of other top-ranked prospects.

When the weight of her responsibilities feels overpowering, she sits with her thoughts to remind herself why she’s there. Often, she has to look no further than her teammates to reignite the fire to keep pushing forward.

“It gets overwhelming to play with them because they are such crazy, talented players that it is genuinely hard, but they keep you accountable. If you are down on the court, they will encourage you…I think I’m just blessed to be surrounded by so many great people,” Daniel said.

Daniel’s family is no stranger to basketball. However, joining an Elite Youth Basketball Team was never part of Imani Daniel’s plan.

Her family evacuated to Texas when Hurricane Ida struck Southeast Louisiana in 2021. Faced with the uncertainty of whether they would have a home to return to, Austin enrolled Daniel in school in the Cypress, Texas community.

Thankfully, all was well when they were able to return home to the River Parishes, and Daniel re-enrolled at John Curtis. However, the connections made in Cypress led Daniel to the Elite Youth Basketball League.

Daniel spent the month of July traveling the country to compete in basketball tournaments while practicing vigorously day in and day out. It all led up to the three-day Women’s Open, an invitation only event for rising sophomores and juniors.

Daniel arrived in Memphis on Thursday and got to stay in the prestigious Peabody hotel. Friday was dedicated to learning the courts and the coaches, and by Saturday, it was game on.

“My favorite part overall was getting to know the players,” Daniel said. “We’ve been in separate age divisions over the summer. This time, we were actually with the 17U.”

Daniel credits the coaches she has played under for shaping her into the athlete she is today, from Coach Kevin Dizer at Riverside Academy to Temeka Johnson at John Curtis. Her journey has also been molded by the St. John Parish Recreation Department and the locally-based Louisiana United AAU basketball team.