By Tom Ballato
Each year during March Madness, we are introduced to players that we may not have heard of during the regular season, but they play at the same high level. We often don’t get to see them in the national spotlight.
Mike Daum, for South Dakota State in three NCAA Tournaments, enamored us to root for the underdog. And we did.
He was born into a family of athletes, his father, Mitch, was a football player (had a brief stint in the NFL), and his mother, Michele, was a standout basketball player at the University of Wyoming. She went on to play professionally overseas. Growing up, what resonated with Mike the most from his parents was work ethic. “Those two words are the definition of my parents and what they taught me just from their actions. They’ve made so many sacrifices to help put me in the position I am today also. No matter what is going on, you can just keep working and have a good attitude about it!” said Daum.
When the time came to play college basketball, Daum committed to South Dakota State. “The coaching staff did a great job of recruiting me! It was a place where I felt like I had a great chance to play in the NCAA tournament and make a difference on the court.”, according to Daum.
His freshman year, he was redshirted because he wasn’t ready yet for the college game physically and mentally. After getting stronger and learning for a year, he was prepared to take the court for the Jackrabbits.
As a redshirt freshman, Daum came off the bench and averaged 15.2 points and 6 rebounds per game. The Jackrabbits of South Dakota State won the Summit Regular Season Championship and the Summit Tournament Championship that season. They clinched a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
When asked about his fondest memory at South Dakota State, Daum responded, “Winning my first summit league championship, my redshirt freshman year! Amazing feeling.”
South Dakota State got a new head coach during his redshirt sophomore season. It took a lot of that time for the team to figure things out. “That year was a struggle, but ultimately it led to us coming together as a team and coaching staff and winning when we needed to.” The Jackrabbits made it to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Summit Tournament Championship. Daum started that season and averaged 25.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
The Jackrabbits would appear in the NCAA Tournament in his junior year, a season where Daum continued to improve his production on the court. Following that season, Daum declared for the NBA draft without an agent.
After briefly testing the NBA waters, Daum returned to school for his senior season. He got the feedback he needed to improve his body and part of his game.
Daum scored over 3,000 points in his four-year collegiate career, 3,067, to be exact. He is ranked 7th all-time on the NCAA Division I scoring list.
What was unique about his game as he was a 6’9″ center who could play inside and outside. He was often a mismatch for opponents. He shot 41% from three and was an 85% free throw shooter, a complete overall game.
After going undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft, Daum signed with the Portland Trail Blazers to play on their summer league team. “Experience was amazing. Spending two weeks with them really helped open my eyes to what I would be expecting at the next level. I learned a lot about how fast the NBA game actually is and the physicality and talent level of every guy. I was grateful for the opportunity.”
Daum got exposure from NBA teams to notice him during the NBA Summer League. He appeared in four games averaging 3.5 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes per contest for Portland.
Shortly after the summer league, Daum signed to play for Monbus Obradoiro in the ACB League in Spain.
In his first professional season, Daum has played in 21 games so far for Monbus Obradoiro. He has continued to play his game, causing mismatches for opponents. He’s averaging 9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 45.7% from three (21 makes in 46 attempts).
When asked about his first professional season in Spain, Daum responded, “My first season is going really well on a great team with coaches and teammates! They are super supportive and take the time to want to help you get better. I couldn’t have asked for a better first-year gig!”
In a league that has a fast pace style of play, Daum has been working on his game and improved his defense. “They take defense very seriously over here. A lot has been defense, but I feel I have a big overall improvement of everything,” said Daum. The defense has caused many low scoring games in a high tempo league, according to Daum.
Daum is also taking in everything Spain has to offer. He’s learning some of the language and is enjoying the food and culture.
The ACB League ends in May, but Daum hasn’t looked at the off-season just yet. He tries to take things day by day, and it focused on improving his body and getting stronger this summer. Daum will be with his trainer working out every day.
Daum is just scratching the surface with his potential. With continued improvement to his game and his skill set, it’s hard to imagine not hearing his name this summer in the NBA Summer League again.