Before he got on with the business of his senior year in the Landon School’s backcourt, Joe McDonald had something else to occupy his time besides figuring out where he would play point guard at the college level.
Namely, there was a football season to attend to. And George Washington, one of his suitors, had its eyes on him nearly every step of the way.
“There’d be times — cold days — [assistant] coach [Kevin] Sutton would be at the top of the bleachers watching me in practice,” McDonald said. “Not in a game. Practice. I’m like, ‘They’re real about it.’”
All those frigid afternoons for Sutton and coach Mike Lonergan proved sound investments for the Colonials. George Washington was 10-21 in Lonergan’s first season, and the former Catholic University guard and coach was intent on casting a recruiting net locally as he rebuilt the Colonials.
“I don’t consider Joe a true point guard,” Lonergan said. “I just think he’s a guard and a basketball player. He’s mentally tough, which you have to be to play that position, especially as a freshman.”
He’ll have the opportunity on an overhauled roster. Tony Taylor, last year’s starting point guard, graduated. George Washington could start as many as four newcomers (three freshmen and Villanova transfer Isaiah Armwood), especially as forward David Pellom continues to recover from offseason wrist surgery and is not expected back until late November at the earliest.
Yet there was little doubt who coveted the 6-foot-1 McDonald the most. Lonergan would attend out-of-town games to emphasize the Colonials’ interest. When asked if he was receiving a letter a day from George Washington coaches, McDonald simply chuckled.
“They let me know that they really wanted me,” McDonald said. “That was something when I was talking with my mom about it, because she helped me with the whole process, [she said to] make sure I go somewhere I’m not only needed and wanted. I think the combination of both was perfect here.”
The Colonials received an early look at McDonald over the summer, taking advantage of a trip to Italy and 10 practices preceding it to better fit together their new pieces.
“On the court, he’s just good,” freshman forward Kevin Larsen said. “Everything he does is solid. He’s strong, a good ball-handler, can shoot and find an open teammate. You never see him yell at people if they make a mistake. He always tries to get the best out of every teammate he has.”
Not to mention himself. Lonergan is especially impressed with McDonald’s knowledge and has found him to be a slightly better scorer than he anticipated. That could prove crucial even this season for the Colonials, who averaged only 62 points a game last season.
The overseas trip provided some hope to McDonald the adjustment to college could be seamless. There were times, like a game against a team intent on applying full-court pressure on the Colonials, when George Washington looked as young as it is. There were other instances when McDonald efficiently followed Lonergan’s play call out of a timeout.
“We would execute it to perfection and get a quick bucket exactly the way he drew it up,” McDonald said. “I could tell in certain situations like that it could be this easy. I hope it will be.”
It probably won’t be too smooth this season. The Colonials were picked 13th in the 16-team Atlantic 10, and any team so reliant on freshmen is bound to experience fluctuations.
Yet there could also be moments when McDonald’s play warms a staff that experienced more than a few icy days in its attempt to lure him to Foggy Bottom.
“It was so darn cold,” Lonergan said, recalling a Landon football game he watched last fall. “We saw him a lot — and definitely needed him to come.”