McDonald leads Geneva to record-setting season
Geneva senior Jack McDonald's penchant for making the incredible pass look easy was epitomized by one play Tuesday.
The Vikings were on an early roll against Rockford East in the Class 4A supersectional at Northern Illinois. They led 13-6 late in the first quarter, thanks, in part, to 5 assists already from their 5-foot-11, 160-pound point guard.
Geneva senior Garret Sneed was set to inbound the ball from the sideline with less than three seconds left in the quarter, but he couldn't pass to McDonald due to tight defense by Rockford East sophomore guard Markarious Luster.
Rather than cozy up closer to Sneed along the sideline, McDonald cut behind the defender and sprinted away from the ball. Sneed threw the pass over Luster's head. Another Rockford East player who was guarding Josh Preston in the corner left his man when he saw Sneed's pass.
With two defenders closing fast on McDonald, he never actually caught the ball. In a split-second decision he used both hands to push the oncoming basketball in one motion to Preston. The point guard looked like a setter in volleyball, a sport he does not play.
"Maybe a couple of intramural tournaments in gym class but that's about all," McDonald said.
The one-timed pass landed right in Preston's hands. He caught, fired and sank a 3-pointer.
After the shot, Preston ran to celebrate with McDonald, who was knocked to the floor in a collision with the second defender.
The play was not planned and had never been executed in practice quite that way.
"At that point it's just instincts," McDonald said. "I saw Josh's man coming to double, just tipped it to him and he knocked it down."
Those instincts and the uncanny ability to make his teammates better with a variety of no-look, behind-the-back and one-timed passes make McDonald the captain of the 2018-19 Daily Herald All-Area Boys Basketball Team in the Fox Valley.
There was an audible "whoa" from the NIU Convocation Center crowd in reaction to McDonald's heads-up play. Even some clad in Geneva blue were taken by surprise despite being dazzled by McDonald's passing wizardry for three seasons.
McDonald joined the varsity when he was a sophomore and had an immediate impact as a starter. He and fellow sophomore guard Mitch Mascari helped a team led by seniors Cole and Dom Navigato win its first 26 games. However, that group lost in a regional final.
McDonald's assists came so fast and furious he became the program's all-time leader in the category early in his junior season. That Geneva team had one senior starter yet still managed to win 18 games. However, the Vikings once again lost in a regional final.
Geneva's postseason frustration of the past two years was soothed this month with 4 straight playoff wins. The second of Bill and Kathy McDonald's three children was a key reason for that success. Though he averaged 16.6 points this year, McDonald scored more in the state tournament when necessary. He tallied 36 points in the regional opener against Hinsdale Central and dropped 27 on Downers Grove North in the Bartlett sectional final.
"He sacrifices some scoring, which tells you right there he's the ultimate teammate and the ultimate competitor," Geneva coach Scott Hennig said. "He doesn't care if he's scoring or not. As long as the Geneva Vikings are winning he's happy."
The team co-captain was dangerous in spurts even when not looking for his shot. He was held to 7 points in a 45-38 regional title game win over Wheaton Warrenville South but was right at the center of the decisive 12-2 run to open the fourth quarter.
McDonald sank a 3-pointer -- he shot 36 percent from 3-point range this season (42 of 117) -- and the 84-percent free-throw shooter made 2 of 3 from the line. He then assisted on a 3-point basket by Mascari.
McDonald did it all in a 54-41 victory over Lyons Township in a sectional semifinal last Tuesday. He finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
The performance left an impression on the Lions, who had beaten Oak Park-River Forest (18-10) and tagged 20-win Glenbard West with 3 of its 10 losses.
"McDonald is as good as anybody that we've seen or better," Lyons coach Tom Sloan said. "He was able to break the defense down, get into the paint and find open guys like he's got eyes in the back of his head. He finds guys behind him and then he scores through contact. He misses his own shot and gets his own putback a couple of times. We knew those were the things he was good at, but he still does them even though you're trying to prevent him from doing it."
McDonald achieved most of what he set out to do this season. His Vikings won the DuKane Conference, two holiday tournaments and the regional and sectional titles that had eluded them the previous two years.
He committed to play college basketball at Division-III Augustana along the way because he thought it would be "a better fit both academically and athletically" than two Division-II schools that made offers.
"He's going to have a great career at Augustana," Hennig said. "This year he really put in a lot of time in the weight room to improve his strength, not just preparing for this year but preparing for the next level. He's the best kid you'd ever want to coach in terms of his work ethic, in terms of his toughness, in terms of making everyone else better."
Geneva fell one win shy of making it to the state finals in Peoria with Tuesday's 70-62 loss to Rockford East. McDonald notched 10 points to finish his career with 1,330. He added 11 more assists to his school record of 571, a mark likely to stand for a long time.
"It's truly been unbelievable these past few years playing on the varsity team," he said. "Just the amount of support we get and my teammates and coaches, it's all been such a great experience. I'll miss it but I'm excited for the future."