SAN DIEGO — One time, at halftime of a high school basketball game, Danny Means put away that big smile of his, broke away from that usually quiet and reserved nature and got a little bit ticked at everybody.
Even his own brother was surprised.
On this particular night, Means' St. John Bosco team wasn't playing too well, trailing Loyola High by 10 points.
"He came walking into the locker room and started yelling at all of us," Kelvin Means, his brother, remembered. "He said, 'If you guys aren't going to start playing better, then I'm going to have to go out there and do it all myself.'
"Then he just left the room. We all sat there and figured if it meant that much to him, then it meant that much to us. We went out and won the game in the second half.
"But, all the while, I was thinking to myself, 'Who was that guy?' "
These days, Hank Egan, the University of San Diego basketball coach, is probably wondering, "Where is that guy?"
Danny Means, the leader who walked into the St. John Bosco locker room that night three years ago, hasn't shown up yet this year.
"Danny has had to handle a lot of new responsibilities for us this season," said Egan, whose 2-3 Toreros take on San Diego State tonight in the Sports Arena. "And he's struggling with it."
Means, a 6-foot 1-inch guard, started last year as a sophomore, but he was basically a bit player in USD's drive to the West Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championship. USD started four seniors, and they were subjected to most of the pressure. This was fine for Means, who isn't much for outbursts or cheerleading. He wouldn't raise much of a fuss if you were standing on his foot.
The four seniors are now gone, and Means, 20, is the most experienced player Egan has. All of a sudden, Means has to be USD's leader.
Whether he wants to be or not.
"It has all happened so fast," Means said. "And, I must admit, it's been harder than I expected.
"Last year, I felt my role was to play good defense and not make any mistakes. Now, this year, I'm an older guy and people are looking to me to make things happen."
As if the weight of leadership hasn't been enough for him to handle, Means has also been entrusted with running the USD offense this year as the team's point guard after a year at off guard. He is averaging 13.4 points per game and leading the team in assists.
"I thought of Danny as a natural off-guard," Egan said, "but nobody really came in and took over the point guard position. So I turned to him.
"I understand that it's been difficult for him, but I tell him that anything worth having is going to be difficult. I'm not worried at all that he'll be an excellent team leader."
Actually, Means isn't shying away from the role. He understands his position on the team, and he understands that it's going to take time before everything comes together for him.
"Right now, I'm not being as aggressive and loose out there on the court," Means said. "I guess, at the beginning of this season, I've been thinking that I can't really make any mistakes because I'm the guy everybody is looking to.
"What I should be thinking about is just going out there and doing what I can do. Then, everything else will fall in place."
When Means plays to his capabilities, the results can be outstanding. Last March, in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Auburn, Means scored a game-high 18 points, even though USD lost, 62-61.
It figured that Means would be the main man this season, since he was the only returning starter on a team that now starts three freshmen.
"Nobody's ever come up to me and said I was the team leader, but I just kind of expected that it would turn out that way," Means said. "I know what Coach Egan expects of me. I know he feels that if I can play well, it will rub off on everybody else."
But through five games, it hasn't been easy.
"So far, I think he's been a little conservative out on the court," said Mike Haupt, Means' roommate and a starting forward. "But the most important thing is that he recognizes what he has to do.
"He has a tendency to put everything on his shoulders. And that's good and bad. It's going to take time for him to feel comfortable in his new role and we all understand that."
This isn't the first time Means has been in the role of leader. His brother Kelvin, now a freshman guard at USD, remembers how Danny led the St. John Bosco team his final two years in high school.
"That was kind of the same situation we have now at USD," Kelvin said. "He was the only experienced guy on a team of young players. He leads by example, and I think so far this year, we just haven't been taking advantage of his leadership.
"He doesn't like to say much but he's a little more talkative these days. He'll say, 'I know you guys are young, but that's no reason to be timid.' He's really easy for all of us to relate to."
Danny and Kelvin learned the game from their father, Don, who coached them in youth leagues and regularly beat them in one-on-one games in the driveway.