Before the season tipped-off, Jeremy Ballard raved about the significance of Antonio Daye.
“Antonio is a big-time player,” Ballard told the Miami Herald. “When he’s at his best, our ceiling is high.”
In his first year as FIU’s primary scorer, he was everything Panthers fans could’ve asked for. The junior guard had been averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game, each of which are team-highs. His APG and SPG numbers rank in the top three in Conference USA.
However, days after the FIU Panthers (9-15, 2-13 C-USA) extended their conference losing streak to 12 games, the Daye era has come to a close. He entered the transfer portal Tuesday, making a shocking decision in what’s already been a surprising season filled with defeats.
“It was a lot of things, not something that just happened overnight,” Daye told 305 Sports moments after entering the transfer portal. “It was something that I had just been thinking about for around a month now with my family and it kind of just made sense now. It definitely was a big thought for me and a big move, but I think it’s what is best for me and my future.”
From day one, FIU’s point guard-heavy offense called on Daye to deliver early. As a freshman, Daye played in all 34 games, starting in 18 of the last 20, and averaging 8.3 points. He wasn’t held to a freshman standard and certainly didn’t play to one, as highlighted in his 22 point outing on 9-14 shooting in a tightly contested road win over rival FAU.
“My freshman year was just like it is for any other freshman: a big learning year for me,” Daye said. “Luckily, I got thrown in the fire early and was named a starter as a freshman which was huge. So I kind of got to play through my mistakes and grew my confidence.”
Daye took the lead of the point guard room as a sophomore, starting in 31 games and notching 10.4 points and a conference-high 4.9 assists per contest. Alongside former Panther center Osasumwen Osaghae, FIU, which finished 19-13, nearly reached 20 wins in back-to-back seasons until the pandemic hit.
“My sophomore year, we had a really good team,” Daye said. “The guys, they made it really easy for me to lead the conference in assists and to they believed in me. Having a guy like Osasu made my job a lot easier on offense and defense.
Daye’s junior season had all the makings of a success story, even with the COVID-19 pandemic infiltrating a lot of offseason preparations. After a 4-0 start to the 2021 season, Daye had already posted three 20-point outings, headlined by a season-high 28 points in a victory over Jacksonville State.
Daye had FIU, which was projected to finish 11th in Conference USA, sitting at fourth place with a 6-2 record at the end of non-conference play. That goes without mentioning the junior’s ability to open up the floor and guide the Panthers to ranking third in the NCAA in three-point field goals made with 110 in eight games.
“I’ve just been putting the work in over the summer and during the season,” Daye said. “I just stay consistent in the gym working on my game every day, and my teammates being able to shoot the ball so well really helped my game a lot with being able to get assists and for the paint to be opened up the way it was all year.”
When stepping on the court at the Ocean Bank Convocation Center, Daye made it clear that nobody would outwork him. Whether it’s staying in the gym to get shots up after a 24-point performance or apologizing to Panther fans after missing the game-winner versus FAU, Daye’s mindset was second to none.
“This year has been my breakout year in terms of me just knowing that my teammates look at me as a leader and knowing that I have a lot to prove to myself and to prove to everyone that doubted me,” he said. “It means a lot for my teammates to have so much trust in me, and to label me their leader. I’m proud of myself and I know my teammates are proud of me as well.”
As the season progressed, the Panthers’ 2-2 start to conference play didn’t draw much concern. However, the COVID-19 pandemic began depleting FIU’s roster. They’ve lost 12 of the last 13 games — the only win against NAIA Florida Memorial. The Panthers’ last conference win dates back to January 8, and with two regular-season games left — versus WKU — they could very well remain at the bottom of C-USA.
“I don’t think it was something that wasn’t able to click, I honestly believe that if we didn’t have the injuries and the covid results that we had, we would’ve had a really good season,” Daye said. “We could’ve been the best team in the conference if it wasn’t for COVID-19. But unfortunately, we had those things and we just weren’t able to find our rhythm.”
As the clock winded down in FIU’s latest 72-85 defeat versus Southern Miss (8-14, 4-11 C-USA), Daye didn’t know that was going to be his final game as a Panther.
“I didn’t,” he said. “I was just focused on one game at a time and trying to be there for my brothers/teammates. I was mad at myself because I knew I could’ve played better and helped my teammates get a well-needed win.”
However, further evaluation saw Daye put an end to his time at FIU. Daye, who started in 70 games through three seasons, totaled 989 points, 344 assists, 290 rebounds and 140 steals.
“I made the decision that was best for my future,” Daye told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I really wanted to go to a school that harped on basketball more and was more of a basketball school.”
Since entering the transfer portal, Daye has quickly become the hottest name on the market. He’s been in contact with Arkansas, Missouri, NC A&T, Georgia State, Florida, Pittsburgh, NC State, Wake Forest, Valparaiso, Wichita State, Virginia Tech, Oregon, Maryland, Cincinnati and St. John’s, according to StockRisers.
Daye wants to take some time to evaluate his options, and isn’t calling out any possible options of staying in the state of Florida or going to his hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
“I’m not sure yet. It’s fresh. I just entered the portal maybe like two hours ago, so I don’t even know where I want to be yet, but I’m just weighing all my options and I’m just leaving it in God’s hands and whatever happens, happens.
For many who haven’t seen Daye perform, he assures that he’ll bring a plethora of attributes to his next school, starting at the defensive end.
“They’re definitely getting a hard worker, a two-way guy, a great kid, a guy that wants to come in and make an impact right away and to bring energy and a winning spirit,” Daye said. “I think my biggest strength is my ability to defend multiple positions and to just defend, period. I take pride on defense and I’m really good at that aspect of the game. I emulate my game after Ja Morant based on his explosiveness and how he loves to attack and get guys involved.”
As for his time at FIU, Daye believes it’s helped build him into the player he is today.
“I appreciate all of the Panther fans for believing in me since day one, I had a great time here in Miami and at FIU,” he said. “You guys stuck with me through my ups and downs, and I had a lot of downs, so I appreciate the fans and I’ll forever be apart of Panther’s nation.
“I wish the best for my teammates, the coaching staff and this whole university. But, I just think it’s what is best for me.”