June 5, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Darian Donald knew he was soft.
A season of getting tossed from side to side on the blocks can convince even the most talented basketball player he needs to make a change.
So the former Caledonia High School standout went to work immediately following his freshman season with the East Mississippi Community College men''s basketball team.
The work Donald did and the season he had as a sophomore transformed him into a different player.
"He was not prepared for college basketball coming out of high school," EMCC coach Mark White said of Donald. "When I recruited him his dad said he needed someone to work him and to really push him. (Darian) has a laid back personality and he really totally changed as a player and as a person. He is much more outspoken off the floor. He really grew a lot from his freshman to sophomore year in all areas."
Donald''s growth paid its dividends Thursday when it was announced he was one of eight players to sign national letters of intent to play basketball at Mississippi Valley State University.
Donald, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound forward, originally had signed a scholarship to play basketball at Centenary, another Division I school in Shreveport, La. But last month the NCAA hit the Centenary men''s basketball program with the first postseason bans assessed for scholastic shortcomings. It was cited for a history of poor Academic Progress Rates (APRs), which measure player retention, eligibility and progress toward graduation.
The penalties cost Centenary two scholarships, one of which it had awarded to Donald.
MVSU coach Sean Woods had recruited Donald before he signed with Centenary and moved quickly to get back in touch with Donald after the announcement.
"It was just a situation where we saw a talented kid and liked him but Centenary already had been there," said Woods, a former player at the University of Kentucky. We still had a scholarship available (his program''s final one), and we think the kid''s best basketball is still ahead of him. If he works like he is supposed to he will have a pretty good career at Valley."
Donald averaged 6.6 points and 2.7 rebounds as a freshman, but White admitted Donald didn''t figure prominently in his team''s plans for the 2008-09 season.
White said Donald knew he needed to get stronger and improve his game and set out to make himself into a different player.
Donald''s efforts in the offseason helped him finish this season second on the team in scoring (13.0 ppg.) and third on the team in rebounding (5.6 rpg.). He helped the Lions to a 17-11 record, a second-place (tied) finish in the MACJC''s North Division standings, and semifinal-round appearances in the MACJC State Tournament and NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
He capped his junior college career by participating in the 2009 MACJC All-Star Basketball Game.
"He was probably our most improved player who came back after his freshman year," White said. "As soon as his freshman year ended he went right to work and got in the gym every day and worked his butt off and worked on his game. He just made huge strides physically and mentally with understanding what college basketball is all about and how tough it is, how hard it is, how tough you have to be, and how hard you need to work."
Donald said he didn''t enjoy being pushed around in the post and knew he had a lot of work to do in the offseason to get stronger. He also used the offseason to improve his defense and to hone his long-range shooting skills.
The difference was significant.
"I was two very different players," Donald said of the player he was as a freshman and as a sophomore. "I considered myself soft (my freshman year), but it was a different story this year. I feel strong enough to compete in the post and to go up against bigger guys. I also feel I can absorb more contact and finish stronger than I could last year."
Donald was a four-year letterman for coach Josh Scott at Caledonia High. A two-year starter who scored more than 1,000 career points in his high school career, he averaged 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game as a senior to help lead Caledonia to a 26-8 record, region runner-up finish and berth in the Class 3A North Half playoffs.
But Donald said the adjustment from high school to junior college was a big step and forced him to re-examine his work habits. He said he gained confidence from his maturation from his freshman to sophomore year at EMCC and believes that will help him when he moves to MVSU.
"I am going to try to work hard this summer and be well adjusted and ready once I get there so I can be prepared for whatever happens," Donald said. "I can feed off what I did before and work out the same and do more. I learned about the weaknesses of my game and the things I need to do to get into shape and what I need to do in the weight room. I believe I will be all right."
White agrees and feels Donald will want to continue the progression he started at EMCC at MVSU.
"I know he will continue to work hard," White said. "I really think he fits in well with Valley. They play an up and down the floor game that suits his type of game. He is a really good shooter and a versatile player."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.