Daniya Darby first picked up a basketball when she was about 11 years old.
The Lincoln High School hoop standout doesn’t remember exactly when it all started for her, just how it all began.
“I actually had a friend who had a hoop in their front yard,” Darby said. “I went over to the house and just started playing.”
And was she good right away?
“I guess it was just natural,” she laughs.
However, when Darby arrived at Lincoln High School, she wasn’t exactly at the superstar status she holds these days.
“I was average, maybe a little bit above average,” Darby said.
Darby averaged just 6.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman as the Lady Lions went all the way to the Hudson County Tournament finals in 2016, falling in the title game to Bayonne.
At the time, Lincoln had a superstar player in Zhan’e Williams, a Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team honoree who scored 1,000 points in her career at Lincoln.
“When I first started playing, I didn’t even know what 1,000 points meant,” Darby said. “When Zhan’e got her 1,000, I knew how important it was.”
So that’s when Darby decided she wanted to reach the same milestone.
“That gave me a lot of encouragement,” Darby said. “I knew I had to put a little more effort into playing. So I did all the extra things I was supposed to do.”
Darby went to a lot of camps and clinics to learn how to become a better player. She joined the prestigious New Jersey Sparks AAU program as well.
“It was tough,” Darby said. “I never had the experience to play at that level before. But I knew I had to play at that level all the time.”
Darby also picked the mind of a very reliable and valuable source, namely Tommy Best, Darby’s head coach at Lincoln.
During his playing days, Best was a powerful inside player, first at Lincoln, then later Lafayette College for a brief stint and finally St. Peter’s College, where he still ranks among the program’s top scorers and rebounders.
“I knew the things that she can do to help the team,” Best said. “It’s easier for me to teach big people. And at Lincoln, we’ve had a pipeline of big people.”
Before Williams, Best coached All-Area stars like Kiante Johnson and Breana Bey, the latter was the 2012 Hudson Reporter Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year before going off to play at Stetson University and later professionally overseas in Ireland. Bey also recovered from being shot in Jersey City in 2014.
“She was getting a chance to be coached,” Best said of Darby. “She put in a lot of hard work to become a better player. She also got a lot of good coaching. She needed to believe that she could do it. She was disciplined enough to learn how to do a lot of things.”
“He actually gave me some really good tips,” Darby said of Best. “He always told me how he was as a player and that helped me a lot. I started to figure things out a little.”
Most importantly, Darby learned how to be a solid post player, a good scorer and a consistent rebounder.
Darby improved so much that she became a Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team honoree in 2017 as a sophomore, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds.
“She learned where the ball was going to be when it came off the rim,” Best said. “I think that’s something you’re born with. It’s a product of her wanting the ball. She played a lot and got better by playing. She found a way to get the ball in her hands.”
Last season, it was more of the same, as Darby averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game, leading the Lady Lions to the Hudson County Tournament championship.
“We wanted to try to win it again,” Darby said.
But Darby hurt her ankle in a freak pre-game warm-up accident, when a teammate inadvertently stepped on Darby’s foot, causing her to sprain her ankle, forcing Darby to the sidelines.
“It was pretty tough trying to get back,” Darby said.
“She had to step her game up,” Best said. “Every team was trying to find a way to stop Darby. Their main goal was to not let Darby score.”
But lately, that hasn’t been the case, as Darby is playing like the dominant force she has been over the last two seasons.
In her last four games, Darby had 25 points and 12 rebounds against Memorial, 19 points and 14 rebounds in a loss to Hudson Catholic, 14 points and 12 rebounds in a win against Union City and had 11 points and 12 rebounds in a huge win over Bayonne, handing the Bees only their second loss of the season.
For her efforts, Darby has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
For the season, Darby is now averaging 18.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.
She also reached an impressive milestone recently. In the win over Union City, Darby scored the 1,000th point of her career, earning the same milestone as Williams, Johnson and Bey.
“She’s in some good company now,” Best said.
Ironically, Darby reached the 1,000-point milestone one day before her cousin Donte scored his 1,000th point for the Lincoln boys’ basketball team.
Donte Darby was also a Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week honoree earlier this season, so the Darbys are keeping it all in the family.
Incredibly, Daniya Darby is not getting many offers from colleges to play next season.
“I think we have to be patient and wait a bit,” Best said.
“I probably say I’m going to have to go JUCO [junior college],” said Darby, whose cousin Frank Darby attended a junior college before signing on to play football at Arizona State and will more than likely play pro football in the future. “I think I might have to take that path. I think everyone knows a lot about my family. It’s a big goal of mine to play in college. I’m going to try to go far. I think about going to college every day. That’s my goal.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com