Joe McDonald shelved football pads and helmet years ago, yet still wonders what kind of player he might have been had he chosen that path. Judging from his approach on the basketball court, George Washington’s senior point guard likely would have done just fine on the football field.
McDonald relishes contact and treats loose balls like fumbles. The Colonials (5-1) try to improve on a solid start versus Seton Hall (4-1) at the Smith Center Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on ASN.
“I love physical play,” McDonald said. “I never mind getting in there and mixing it up. I’m only 6-1, so I don’t get as high as a lot of other guys going for rebounds, but long rebounds, for sure, I’ll go after them. I always want to win the 50-50 battles.”
McDonald is one of the leaders of a veteran team picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 and coming off of back-to-back postseason appearances in the NIT and NCAA tournaments. The Colonials already knocked off then-No. 6 Virginia, along with Tennessee and South Florida. Their only loss came last Saturday against No. 24 Cincinnati in the final of the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I think we’re playing very well,” McDonald said. “We’ve played a tough schedule. Obviously, we would have liked to play better in our last game, but Cincinnati’s a good team. We took advantage of Virginia coming here to play us. We just want to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.”
McDonald is one of three senior starters, along with forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen. Those three have combined for 289 career starts. Garino, Larsen and junior Tyler Cavanaugh score in double figures for a team averaging 86 points and shooting .485 from the field in four home games.
McDonald averages 7.3 points per game, but a remarkable 6.9 rebounds per game. He is 13th in the conference in rebounding, far and away the league’s top rebounding guard, with double-figure rebound games versus South Florida (13) and Gardner-Webb (10).
“Joe is one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached,” Colonials coach Mike Lonergan said, in a statement through the sports information department. “He’s a quiet leader; he does a lot of the things that don’t show up in a stat sheet, but I think people that know the game well, he’s usually one of their favorite players because they appreciate what he does for our team. He’s a winner and he’s selfless. What matters most to him is the team.”
McDonald attributes his rebounding numbers to several factors. He played at a small, private high school in the Washington, D.C., area where he was the point guard on offense, but the center at the defensive end, checking the opponent’s biggest player, muscling and boxing out.
At GW, while the team’s “bigs” jostle for position and box out their men, McDonald often comes from the off side and grabs rebounds. He also has good instincts for where the ball will come off the rim on long rebounds, which usually translates to a couple of boards per game. And there’s his willingness to muck and scrap for loose balls, whether under the basket or at midcourt.
“There’s not a lot of ego in rebounding,” McDonald said. “I see it as my job to hustle and make plays.”
McDonald’s shooting numbers are down a bit from his career averages. He’s hitting 37.5% from the field, 31.4% from 3-point range, down from 40% overall and 36% from 3. But it’s early in the season and his accuracy is likely to improve.
“Efficiency-wise, I could be a little better, for sure,” McDonald said. “I’m probably forcing things a little bit. I should be playing better. In terms of other things, like rebounding and hustle plays, I’m trying to do more of that and just trying to be a leader. We have a lot of good players and good scorers, so I don’t feel the need to go out and try to score.”
McDonald can score when necessary. In the semifinals of the Barclays tournament last weekend, Tennessee cut a 14-point deficit to 69-68. He hit two jump shots, the Colonials’ last points, as they held on for a 73-70 win.
“There are some things I’d like to reach,” McDonald said of his own goals, “but I’m all about the team. Whatever we need, whether it’s rebounds or assists or steals, any way I can help I’m happy to do it.”
Above: Joe McDonald has no issue getting up over defenders. (Courtesy GW Athletics)