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The basketball bond between Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels had a bumpy beginning. On the flight to an Australian national under-12 tournament, Daniels—who had made the team at age 11—started feeling queasy. Before long, he was heaving and hurling. Giddey and his parents comforted the young Daniels, and the foundation of a friendship were formed in the midst of so much turbulence.

Not long after that plane descended, the Australian duo of Giddey and Daniels began their ascent in international basketball. Less than a week later, their team had finished as national runners-up and Daniels had taken home the MVP trophy. Less than five years later, they’d become teammates again at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra. And less than 10 years later, in December, they faced off against each other for the first time as two of the most dynamic young stars in the NBA.

“It’s an awesome feeling being able to play against one of your childhood friends in the NBA,” says Giddey, now a second-year point guard for the Thunder. “It really proved the value of the paths that we’ve been on from a young age.”

Although they were both highly regarded youth basketball prospects, neither Giddey nor Daniels struck anyone in Australia as future NBA draft lottery picks when they were preteens. They didn’t think of themselves that way either. As kids, they were more focused on the fun of playing basketball—and of pulling pranks. Between seasons, they used to hang out at caravan parks with friends. One spring, they were scolded by police officers for tossing eggs at the Easter Bunny during a holiday parade.

But they blossomed at the Global Academy, an NBA developmental program that operates in partnership with Basketball Australia’s renowned Centre of Excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport. The NBA Academy, which operates three other programs, has produced three NBA draft picks (Giddey, Daniels and Bennedict Mathurin) and nearly 100 DI players in six years. 

Marty Clarke, the Global Academy’s technical director, played with Giddey’s father in Australia and was able to see the potential in Giddey that other coaches had missed when they snubbed him from the Victoria under-16 team in 2016. “Fortunately for us, it’s not about winning championships,” Clarke says. “We also have the luxury of not having to make money. I don’t know that there’s another program in the world like this. There’s no distractions of championships or money—our entire focus is on making each player as good as they can be.” 

Giddey joined the Academy at the start of 2019, and Daniels followed suit that summer. Clarke was eager to pit the pair against each other. “We were lucky we had those guys at the same time, and we would split the group evenly, and sometimes we’d split on age,” he says. “Dyson’s job was to run the team against Giddey’s group. To Dyson’s credit, he always said, I’m taking Giddey.”

Both Giddey and Daniels hit huge growth spurts and developed into can’t-miss prospects at the Academy. But it wasn’t all basketball business all the time. Clarke likes to joke that he never had to put Daniels through any cardio because he was a “huge pest” in the locker room, constantly pranking teammates and then being chased by them through the facility.

Daniels doesn’t deny any of it. Whether he was locking them outside in the cold or stealing their mattresses or letting lizards loose in their rooms, Daniels was constantly finding new ways to tease his teammates. “I own up to it,” he says with a laugh. “I still do it. I like to get under people’s skin and annoy people and pull pranks on people. It gets me into trouble sometimes, but I get joy out of it.”

The pair parted ways when Giddey signed with the NBL’s Adelaide 76ers in March 2020. A year later, the Thunder took him with pick No. 6 in the 2021 NBA Draft. And as Giddey embarked on his rookie season—proving himself to be one of the best young passers in the League by becoming the youngest player ever to record a triple-double and the first player in 40 years to record a scoreless double-double—Daniels continued in the NBA’s developmental pipeline, signing with the G League Ignite. 

“Our three NBA Academy draft picks went three different directions and all ended up in the top 10,” says Chris Ebersole, associate vice president and head of Elite Basketball at the NBA. “Giddey in the NBL, Dyson doing Ignite and Ben [Mathurin] going to college—I think that, for us, is a great indicator that we’re doing something right. The fact that we’ve had three lottery picks in the last two years is a great start, and we know we have more in the pipeline.”

Last summer, before the Pelicans selected him with the No. 8 pick and he started proving to be one of the best young defenders in the League, Daniels had the chance to go up against Giddey one-on-one while they were training together in Los Angeles. It was the first time in two years, and they were both eager to show off their new size, strength and skills. And unsurprisingly, their recollections of the overall record diverge a bit. 

“I was for sure overall the winner,” Daniels says. And for good measure, he had a little trash talk. “He needs a ball screen to be effective, and there’s no ball screens in one-on-one.”

“When we were younger, maybe he beat me one-on-one, I’ll admit that,” Giddey responds. “Over the summer, I can say on the record: When we were working out in California, I got the best of him.”

When they played each other for the first time in an NBA game in December, they didn’t have a chance to match up against each other directly. And Daniels, ever the trash-talker, took a moment after the game to tell his old friend and teammate to be thankful. “I told him he got lucky,” Daniels says, laughing again. “He didn’t have to go up against me.”

Daniels got bragging rights from wins in their teams’ first two matches, but they both know this is only the beginning of the next phase of their basketball bond.

Photos via Getty Images.

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