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Cats count on team mom for support
By Ben Roberts
Staff writer
As the final seconds ticked away in UK’s loss to Georgia last Saturday, Carmen Daniels was nowhere to be seen.

The mother of senior forward Erik Daniels had abandoned her third row seat behind the basket several minutes earlier, unable to watch as the Cats inched closer and closer to defeat.

“I don’t know why I can’t watch,” Carmen Daniels said. “I’ve always been like that. In tight games my stomach just can’t take it.”

Daniels, who works as a computer analyst in Cincinnati, has seen her share of tight games over the past four seasons.

Since Erik joined the Wildcats in 2000, Carmen said she and her husband David have only missed nine UK games.

Erik said the support of his mother has meant a lot throughout his career.

“It’s great to have my biggest fan at all of my games,” he said. “It’s always fun to see her there.”

Daniels has been supporting Erik from the stands since he was in elementary school, missing only a handful of games since her only son took up the game of basketball.

She said the roughest time Erik has had since he started playing came during his first two seasons at UK.

Arriving on a team that already featured a talented player at his position, All-American Tayshaun Prince, Erik struggled to find playing time, averaging only 4.5 points a game over his first two years.

Carmen Daniels said her presence was needed more than ever during that stage of Erik’s life.

“Especially when he wasn’t playing a lot, I think it meant more to him then, just to see a smiling face,” she said.

Daniels admitted her son considered transferring to another school after his sophomore season but is proud he was able to work through it.

“During his sophomore year it was pretty rough for him and he hung in there,” she said. “I’m really proud of him for sticking with it because at one point he thought about leaving. But we never brought him up to be a quitter.”

But Daniels said the last two seasons have been completely different for Erik.

Since her son broke into UK’s starting lineup early last season, Daniels has been able to renew her role as Erik’s personal cheerleader.

“I can always hear her,” Erik said. “She’s the loudest one in the whole stadium. Sometimes I have to tune her out because she gets on my nerves.”

Although she may be outspoken at times, Erik said it wouldn’t feel the same without his mom in the crowd.

After four years of her support, UK’s other veteran players feel the same way.

“She’s our number one fan,” junior Chuck Hayes said. “She’s made all the trips, all the drives. If there’s a team mom it would definitely be her.”

For Erik’s teammates whose parents live far away, a person like Carmen Daniels is especially welcome.

“She’s like the mom away from home to me,” senior Cliff Hawkins said. “It means a lot to have somebody that will treat you like their own and love you as much as she loves her own son. That’s special – not too many people have that quality.”

Aside from Erik, Polish freshman Lukasz Obrzut may benefit the most from Daniels’ presence.

When she was helping her son move in at the beginning of the school year, Daniels started talking to Obrzut and discovered he hadn’t spent much time in Poland since he was 15 and Obrzut didn’t expect his parents would ever be able to visit him in Lexington.

Daniels decided right then to “adopt” Obrzut while he was away from home.

“I told my husband we had to come support our other son Woo because his parents are so far away,” she said. “Now I’ve got another reason to come next year.”

Obrzut said he would always enjoy seeing a familiar face in the Rupp Arena crowd.

“She’s really important to me,” he said. “She knows that whenever she wants to come to a game she can get a ticket right in the front row so I can see her.”

But with Erik’s chances to extend his playing career looking better and better, Daniels knows she won’t be spending as much time in Lexington in the future.

And while she still hopes to attend as many UK games as possible next season, Daniels’ first priority will remain cheering for her son.

“I’ve already told my boss I’m going to work from the road. I’ve got a laptop and I’m going to keep going.”
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