Why Canadian Dalano Banton bet on himself to stay in the NBA Draft

Nebraska guard Dalano Banton drives to the basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

All Dalano Banton needs is an opportunity.

A six-foot-nine, 21-year-old prospect with point guard skills, Banton is a Toronto native hailing from the Rexdale area who could end up as one of the best stories to come from this Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft.

A young man who began his high school career at Central Commerce Collegiate Institute (now called Central Toronto Academy), Banton made the decision to head to the U.S. in an effort for greater exposure. He ended up in Massachusetts, playing for a couple of prep programs in MacDuffie School in Granby and Redemption Christian Academy in Northfield.

At the time, Banton was considered just an okay college recruit as a six-foot-six guard. But as his high school career progressed, so did Banton’s height until he eventually sprouted up to six-foot-nine.

As he was growing, however, Banton continued to play point guard and, thus, ended up as player with a unique, desirable blend of size and skill.

Still, though, Banton was mostly seen as a four-star recruit, and the opportunity that he needed to get to the next level was slow to materialize — that is, until one eagle-eyed coach on a scouting trip finally took notice of the tall, skinny kid on the floor.

Then an assistant for Western Kentucky University, Marc Hsu saw all the makings of an exceptional player who could make his mark at both the collegiate and professional level.

“I saw at an early stage, when I went to recruit him, that I thought he had a chance to be a pro,” said Hsu, now an assistant coach at DePaul. “I thought that back in ’16 when I watched him play three-on-three. I thought he had a chance to be a pro.”

Banton spent the 2018–19 season in Western Kentucky, averaging 3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 15.1 minutes per game. But in order for Banton to reach his potential, Hsu actually felt he needed to leave.

The coach encouraged Banton to transfer to Nebraska, and while that meant he would have to sit out his true sophomore season as a redshirt, when he did finally get to suit up for Fred Hoiberg and the Cornhuskers this past year, he knew he’d made the right call.

“I just had to find somewhere that was the right fit for me,” said Banton. “I feel like the coaching staff at Western Kentucky, the times that I did play, they put me in position to do well. But ... when I ended up taking the court with Coach Hoiberg at Nebraska — and understanding that he was a player, he was a coach and part of [the] front office — I felt like I would be in the right hands.”

Under Hoiberg, Banton was able to play in a more up-tempo system, suitable for his particular talents. And in 27 games last season with Nebraska, including 22 starts, he upped his averages to 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists.

Part of that uptick in production was due to the role he was given. Namely, he could play as a point guard.

“It was just playing in Coach Hoiberg’s system. He understood, and he showed me film on guys he used before me at my size and my height and position,” said Banton. “Versatility at the point guard spot. Because I always knew I wanted to continue to play point guard.”

And now Banton is preparing himself for the NBA Draft.

He had a few opportunities to withdraw his name, but thanks to a strong G League Combine – where he led the camp in assists and rebounds — he’s kept his name in the eligible draft pool.

“I just think it’s the best decision for me, and my gut was telling me to go. I never want to make a decision that I’m going to regret, but I feel like betting on myself was [the right call,]" said Banton. “I believe in myself.”

“He decided to stay in the draft because he felt really good about the feedback we were getting from teams and his future as an NBA player,” said Daniel Poneman, his agent.

That’s encouraging news for the 21-year-old, and looking at what Banton can do on the floor it’s small wonder he might be garnering this kind of interest.

At six-foot-nine with point guard skills, Banton fits the position-less nature of the modern NBA very well. He’s a natural point guard, so he’s already quite advanced at making reads in the pick-and-roll, and because of his length he figures to be able to guard at least four positions.

He’ll need to work to improve his shot as he made just 41.1 per cent of his looks from the floor and 24.7 per cent from three-point range while at Nebraska, but he’s been putting the time in to shore up that area of his game.

“He’s working really hard on his game daily, shooting the ball really well, and people will be amazed at how far his skill set and shooting comes along throughout the summer and his rookie year,” said Poneman. “He’s a very, very special talent in his ability to play-make and think the game at six-foot-nine. He’ll be a very special player in the league for years to come.”

From a pure size and skill standpoint, Banton looks like an NBA player.

Now all he needs is the opportunity.

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