Daquan Pettiford doesn’t know how he acquired the affable nickname that is readily known by practically everyone throughout the hallowed halls of Lincoln High School.
At Lincoln, the senior swingman isn’t known by his given name of Daquan. He’s simply known as “Day-Day.” Even the school’s administrators refer to Pettiford with the nickname.
“I don’t know where it came from, but I think my mother gave it to me at birth,” Pettiford said. “Everyone calls me ‘Day-Day.’ It’s all I know. I actually love the name.”
It’s also a fitting moniker, because Pettiford is such a key member of the Lincoln basketball team and performs the same way, day-to-day, every day.
“I don’t ever have to worry about him,” said Lincoln head coach Troy Smith. “He shows up at game time, ready to play. He’s been very consistent every day. He’s been our leader and it’s happened naturally. I never even had to tell him anything. He gives me eye signals and I know then that we’re on the same page.”
Pettiford is so much of a leader with the Lions that if the team loses, he truly believes it is his fault.
“He takes it personally when the team is not successful,” Smith said. “He thinks that it’s his job to make everyone better and make everyone play hard.”
Pettiford remembers when he was an up-and-coming player on the Lincoln varsity and he had players like former Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Farod Robinson and Derrick McCord to show him how to perform and act as a varsity basketball player. Last year, the Lions had Tymel Jackson to guide the rest of the team.
So this year, it was Pettiford’s turn to be the team’s inspirational leader. Considering that Pettiford played a key role in the Lions’ HCIAA Coviello championship in 2007 – Pettiford was the MVP of the county championship game as a sophomore – and was the team’s leading scorer down the stretch of their NJSIAA Group II state title run a year ago, it was almost a given that Pettiford had to assume that leadership position.
“I felt a lot of pressure being a senior, knowing I had to be a leader,” Pettiford said. “Playing with guys like Farod and Derrick two years ago and Tymel last year helped me to get ready to show the young guys the ropes, so to speak. I always preach to the young guys that they have to stay calm and cool and good things will happen. I try to encourage them all the time. So I did have to take the leadership role.”
Smith said that he never had to tell Pettiford that it was his job to lead the way.
“He just did it,” Smith said. “He knew this was his last year and he wanted to make sure that he had a great last year. It’s been a gradual process. He just stepped it up and did what was needed. He’s been trying to get the younger kids to step up, but he has also shown us that he can play big in big games.”
With his high school career winding down, Pettiford has been playing huge in the most important games of the season.
Last week, Pettiford had the best three-game stretch of his career. He scored 30 points against St. Peter’s Prep, had 31 points and 21 rebounds in a win over Ferris, and scored 28 points and had 14 rebounds in a loss to Snyder.
“He took an elbow in the mouth against Prep and that made him angry,” Smith said. “He just said, ‘I’m going to play harder now.’ He didn’t let it get to him that much. He just played inspired basketball since then.”
“I’ve been thinking that every game could very well be my last game,” Pettiford said. “I can’t take anything for granted. What happened last year and the year before is in the past. Any loss now and I could be going home for good. I don’t want that to happen.”
For his efforts, Pettiford has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Pettiford said that he doesn’t feel like he’s doing anything differently this season. Pettiford averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game last year for the Lions, as they became only the second public school team in Jersey City history to win an overall state championship. Pettiford earned Third Team All-Area honors from The Hudson Reporter last season.
“I’m doing the same things,” Pettiford said. “My coach always tells me that he wants me to take control, that he wants me to have the ball. I want to have the ball, but I also feel like I have to get the other guys involved and feel the same way that I do. I want it in my hands with the game on the line.”
“He’s just playing,” Smith said. “He’s not worried about teams double teaming and triple teaming him. He’s just going out there and playing. I think the game has slowed down for him. He’s seeing things before they happen and can see when he has a chance to take over. I think he’s being more patient and that’s helped him. He’s also more mature and is taking losses and putting them on himself. It’s not fair for him to think that way, but he does.”
Smith said that it’s too early to think about the Lions making another state title run.
“We won’t even look there yet,” Smith said. “We have to concentrate on the county [the HCIAA Coviello playoffs begin this week] and we need to take it one game at a time.”
But Pettiford has the postseason in mind.
“If we were able to repeat, that would be absolutely crazy,” Pettiford said. “I’ve been lucky to do things some kids have never done, winning the county one year and the state the next. If we win again this year, we could go down as one of the greatest teams in Jersey City history. That’s what I’ve been preaching to the rest of the team. Let’s go get it again. We have to play with a sense of urgency.”
As for his game?
“Everything is just clicking right now,” Pettiford said. “Everything is falling right for me. I’m doing a little bit of everything. Wherever the ball is at, I’m there. I know what I can do. It’s no big surprise. I know I’m capable of it.”
Smith believes Pettiford can play college basketball. He just needs to have his grades and his Scholastic Aptitude Test scores improve.
“I’m waiting for my SAT scores before I decide,” Pettiford said. “I know I just want to play ball somewhere. No matter where I play, I just want to keep going.”
Pettiford likes the way the season is going for him.
“I’m excited,” Pettiford said. “It feels good to see my name in headlines. I just want to keep playing. I want to win. It doesn’t feel good to score 30 points and lose. I want to win more than anything.”
If the Lions keep winning, then Pettiford can keep playing, so then it would be day to day for “Day-Day.” –Jim Hague