Gielczyk: Baldwin’s McDonald Talks College
Baldwin senior Deondra McDonald admits that he never had any intentions of playing basketball in high school.
Then he scored 28 points in his first game as a freshman, and that was coming off the bench. It turned a light on in McDonald’s brain, and he realized that basketball was a sport at which he could excel.
He has done that, and more in maintaining a 3.5 grade point average, has been an Honor Roll student his entire prep career and was named Academic All-State this year, while scoring 20.7 points and averaging in excess of 10 rebounds a game while leading the Panthers’ boys basketball team to their fifth straight district title.
During his time on the varsity, the Panthers compiled an impressive 70-12 record, won a Western Michigan D League title and three district championships.
McDonald was a bit ungainly as a freshman, after trimming down from almost 200 pounds in middle school to 145. He gradually bulked up thanks to a weight lifting regimen to help him add strength.
"We used to keep a stat on him as a freshman about how many times he could fall down," Baldwin head coach Scott Pedigo said. "He was growing faster than his body could keep up, and his coordination wasn’t the best.
"He was like a baby deer out there, learning to walk and run. He has real long arms, and I think as he was able to add weight (in muscle) he added confidence, too. It helped him be more aggressive and not intimidated as much. He can physically hold his position and stuff like that."
Although the Panthers were knocked out of the MHSAA tournament with a heartbreaking 38-37 loss to Tri-Unity Christian in the regional finals to effectively end their dreams of playing for the state title at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, the son of Kimberly McDonald and Dillan Rowell recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play college ball at Aquinas in Grand Rapids.
Throughout the recruitment process McDonald was receiving interest from a couple of Division II, numerous Division III schools as well as a couple of junior colleges.
But it was Aquinas that won out, primarily because it felt "like home" when he visited the campus and met with some of the players.
It also fulfills his academic needs. Right now, he plans to become a neurologist, and will be majoring in pre-med.
McDonald is taking a realistic approach to his impending college career, both athletically and academically.
"Well, it’s obviously going to be different than high school," he said. "But, when I went there and played with the team, I didn’t feel I was overmatched by any of the current players. I thought I was on par (with them).
"So, I feel like I can go in there and play real well, and hopefully help them (the Saints) get back to the NAIA finals."
He admits that he had never really heard of Aquinas until this year, but he’s learned since that the Saints have a winning tradition which includes an NAIA championship last year.
McDonald has never been part of a losing team at Baldwin, and that played into his decision to sign with Aquinas as well.
"I didn’t want to go to a college where they were rebuilding," he added. "I wanted to go somewhere with a winning tradition, just like home."
The journey hasn’t always been easy, but this past season it just all came together for McDonald.
He developed into a more versatile player, becoming adept at playing at almost any position on the floor.
He could come off the wing, and he could shoot from the perimeter.
But there’s still more work to be done. McDonald is far from a finished product, and he’s learned that.
"I got my college weight room packet last week, and I said ‘Oh, Lord, this is different!,’ McDonald said. "Here we lift every day, but not rigorous activity. Of course, I get my conditioning in because I knew I’d have to be conditioning to play.
"But, normally my conditioning has been to run a mile, get on the hill a little bit. But in college, there’s a lot more. We have to do sprints and whatnot. And that’s all on top of lifting. Right now, we have a summer schedule so I’ll be playing with them."
McDonald is considering whether to take a red shirt year, with input from the coaching staff. His mother warned him that it might be rough to sit and not play right away.
"She said ‘You know, Dre, you’re a competitor. You’ve never had to sit a whole year and watch other people play,’" McDonald said. "If I’m looking long term, I think that will be the best thing for me.
"I’ll be able to acclimate myself to being a college student, and also get used to the team. Because I know there’ll be several offenses they run that I’ll need to figure out, and I can learn a lot watching."
Pedigo says the Aquinas coaches were impressed with McDonald’s confidence when he joined in some inter-squad scrimmages.
"He believed he could play with the (other) guys," Pedigo said. "He wasn’t intimidated. If he misses a shot, he’s one of those guys that believes he can make the next one. He doesn’t psych himself out.
"When he was younger he used to be overconfident at times, but he’s matured and now he’s able to keep an even level. He’s confident, but he’s not hurting himself on the floor.”
And he wants to win. The Saints like that most of all.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News.