From the bench to the big time
Last year, there wasn’t an All-Star team in the world that would have taken Will McDonald.
In his first two seasons at USF, McDonald played in 27 games and averaged 2.7 points and 1.3 rebounds per contest. But the 6-foot-11 center had a breakthrough campaign in 2001-02. McDonald started 31 games as a junior and scored almost 12 points a game. His rebounding increased to five boards per contest, as McDonald saw 500 more minutes on the court last year than he had in the previous two seasons combined.
“Right now, everybody is asking me, ‘Are you going to go to the NBA?’ I say I hope I go. I want to go,” McDonald said. “That makes me feel good when they come and ask me am I going to go to the NBA, when the question was, ‘Are you going to start?’ It’s gone from are you going to start to the NBA. That’s a big jump.”
That turnaround drew the attention of the NIT, which selected McDonald to be a member of its summer all-star team along with other collegiate stars like Utah’s Britton Johnsen, St. John’s Marcus Hatten and Pittsburgh’s Julius Page. The team did a seven-game tour of Canada from July 22 through Aug. 1, competing against club teams and the Canadian national team.
Before taking off for Canada, the NIT All-Stars spent five days practicing in New York at Madison Square Garden. The trip was jam-packed between travel, practice and games, but all that time spent together allowed the squad a chance to really bond, which made the experience enjoyable for McDonald.
“I met some new friends,” McDonald said. “We all exchanged phone numbers after the trip. Some parts of the trip were real boring, but that’s what made the trip better – meeting new people, new talent. And most of those people on the team, you’ve already heard about them. We were recruiting one of them. We were recruiting Marcus Hatten. So we talked a lot about that.”
McDonald’s ever-improving play continued its upward rise in Canada. In the seven games, McDonald was in double figures in every game except one. McDonald became a go-to player for the team, averaging 15.7 points and 6.7 rebounds on the trip, and he scored 20 or more three times in the seven-game swing to be the team’s leading scorer.
“Really, I was looking to play because I was on an all-star team,” McDonald said. “I know everyone comes from a school where they were in a position to do all the scoring. I didn’t think I was going to lead the team in average, but I did. The first or second game, I knew I could do it, and I could see the coach running plays to get me the ball. I just took advantage of it.
“Everybody’s used to being the man, so it felt good (to be the team’s leading scorer),” McDonald said. “I had a guard on the team named Luis Flores from Manhattan; he kept coming to me because he wanted the assist. So, every time he would come down and run to my side.”
Being the man is something McDonald very much wants to tackle this upcoming season for USF. McDonald was the Bulls’ third leading scorer a year ago, and without B.B. Waldon and Altron Jackson, two of the top five scorers in USF and Conference USA history, McDonald will have to become an even bigger force.
“A lot of people always ask us, ‘How do you think you’re going to be since you all lost B.B. and Altron?’ I think we’re going to be good,” McDonald said. “I can’t say we’re going to be better or worse because I don’t want them to feel like we didn’t need them or we do need them. I feel we’re going to have more team ball this year. We have a lot of new freshmen that came in and are ready to work hard.”
Working hard has been something McDonald has tried to instill in his teammates. He used last summer to shed more than 10 pounds and transform his body by trimming 10 percent of his body fat. This year, rather than go home to Louisiana, McDonald and the rest of the Bulls have stayed on campus all summer, taking classes, lifting weights and playing basketball.
“Everybody’s improving because this is the hardest summer we’ve had – the best workouts,” McDonald said. “We played the whole summer, like four days a week and worked out four days a week. Since I’ve been here, we haven’t done that. We haven’t worked out that hard, and it wasn’t mandatory. The coaches weren’t in there with us. We did this all on our own.
“What makes it fun is that everyone enjoyed playing this year,” McDonald said. “It’s like everyone wants to come in and play. Years before, people didn’t want to come in and play at 9 o’clock at night or 6 o’clock. Everyone wanted to do something else. (This year) everyone put everything else aside to go play.”
The Bulls will not only be counting on McDonald on the court. As one of two seniors who’ve been with the team for four years, McDonald will also be needed to provide guidance for his younger teammates and be a leader. It’s something coach Seth Greenberg is already stressing to him.
“Everyday. If one of them does something wrong, he comes straight to me or Reggie (Kohn) and tries to make us understand that we have to step up because in previous years we haven’t had a lot of leadership experience,” McDonald said. “He just tells us certain things. There’s only (so much) you can tell a person because they’re grown men now. If you go at them right, then they’ll listen to you. We had sometimes players try to go at a player, and they came at them wrong, and they go, ‘You have to do this.’ And they’re screaming at them. You can’t do that. They’ll listen to you when you show you respect them as a player.”
From turning around his career to leading an all-star team, it’s quite evident that there will be plenty of respect for Will McDonald this season.
Contact Oracle Sports Editor Anthony Gagliano at email@example.com