McDonald Points The Way For Stanford
March 7, 2001
STANFORD, Calif. - Once labeled by the national media as the 'weak link' on a very strong Stanford team, Michael McDonald has made the critics eat their words. After spending the past summer working on his game, the soft-spoken senior opened the regular season in front of the loyal Cardinal fans with a 7-of-9 performance including 5-of-6 from three-point range en route to a career-high 19 points against San Francisco State. Head coach Mike Montgomery said after the game, 'Mike (McDonald) got off to a great start and shot the ball extremely well. The last two times we've played, he's just buried the open shot. If he can continue to do that, that just makes us that much tougher because having the ability to shoot the ball from all five positions on the floor makes you pretty tough to defend - particularly if the ball is moving, which it has been.' If anyone still questions his importance to the team, the next 20-plus games have been a testament to his ability. He has not let up all season, hitting six three-pointers against USC and has a team and conference-leading three-point .544 shooting percentage.
McDonald is the prototypical point guard. Smart and sleek, he runs the squad on the floor. Early in the year, people questioned McDonald's ability to lead the team: he's quiet and a bit of a joker, but he readily greeted the challenge. '(Becoming a leader) is a natural thing,' he shared. 'Once you're (one of) the oldest on the team, you're a little tougher. You've been through everything mentally and physically that other guys haven't. It gives you a right to speak up on the court and off.'
McDonald knows his role on the team and embraces it. He is the point guard. 'I know the offense better than anyone else on the team,' he said. 'It's my job to get everyone involved and set up the offense and make sure everything runs smoothly. I've always been a good passer. Growing up, it was something I prided myself on. I get other (people) the ball and get them good shots. That's what a point guard is supposed to do.'
Although McDonald might not be able to beat teammate Casey Jacobsen at a game of HORSE, he is not someone other teams can ignore. McDonald has made himself into a devastating player when left alone on the floor. In a game at Washington this year, he tallied 14 points and also managed to chalk up a career-high nine assists. Being both a shooting threat and a great passer has made McDonald the glue of the Cardinal starting five. As a senior, he is leading the Pac-10 with a 144-43 assist-to-turnover ratio. He has five games with no turnovers and 11 games with only one.
Although McDonald and the coaches have been nonchalant about his improvement this season, it is striking. Last season, he scored in double digits four times. This year, he has scored ten or more points in nine of the first 28 games. The Cardinal has been a prolific offensive team this year, shooting .514% from the floor while outscoring opponents by 19.4 points per game. Montgomery explained that after last year, the coaches talked with McDonald and said, 'There's no reason not to make open shots. You're a good shooter, you can make open shots.'
McDonald took their advice and spent his summer shooting 'reps, reps, reps.' The off-season work helped. 'I've been more aggressive with the ball,' he said. 'I shot a lot this summer and I think it has paid off so far this season, so I think that's my biggest improvement.'
Looking back on his Stanford career, McDonald knows that come March (or April) his life as a college basketball player will be over. 'I'm really happy I came to school here,' he said. 'I met a lot of really great people, played for a great program. We won the Pac-10 title twice and we got into the Final Four. It's been a great experience and a great four years.'
When McDonald is relaxing on a sun-soaked Jamaican beach after graduation this summer, he will be able to look back on his senior campaign with immense pride. Despite early doubts, McDonald rose to the challenge and surpassed expectations. Since the beginning of this season, McDonald has led the Cardinal by example showing that he is on rock-solid ground. As the backbone of the team, he has proven vital to their success. Stanford's fate lies in his hands, and he is pointing them towards a third Pac-10 title and another NCAA Tournament run.