695HOOPS WHERE IT'S ALWAYS ALL ABOUT THE GIRLS
We recently met up with Digital Harbor's head coach Patrick McDonald. We discussed how he was able to build a program from scratch without ever losing one player to academic ineligibility. We also delved into his playing days and some other interesting stuff.
695: Tell me about your playing career...
Coach: My basketball career started at 10, when I arrived here from Jamaica and carried me from high school[Miami Edison] All County; Honorable Mention All-State to a full scholarship [Florida International University] where I went on to become the all time leading scorer; second all time in rebounds and top 10 in several other stats. After college I was recruited to play in Copenhagen, Denmark. Where I spent 2 years playing professionally
695: Where did you grow up?
Coach: I grew up in Clover Hill, Jamaica - then my family moved to Miami when I was 8. I fell in love with basketball at age 10 and have been in love ever since.
695: Who is the biggest influence on your coaching philosophy and style?
Coach: The biggest influences would be: Grandfather Charles McDonald; Coach Ernie Bell my high school coach; Coach Summit [University of Tennessee]; Coach K [Duke University] and Coach Lombardi [ Packers Football].
695: Tell me about your coaching career and how you landed at Digital Harbor...
Coach: My coaching career actually started in Europe because during the my time off I took great pleasure in helping some of the local children where I lived to learn more about the sport and then when I returned to the states, my high school coach made me his assistant. I think even when I was in high school as a player I was being tutored then because I spent so much time in the coaches office absorbing everything I could about the game. As for landing at Digital, I started the program at the school after Southern High closed for good which was the same year the school opened and I have been blessed to be here ever since - this is the 10th year. The greatest joy has been to see the impact we have had on the lives of the young people we have had in the program. It has been and is a remarkable opportunity coaches are given to empower the lives of their charges. I am blessed.
695: You have been able to build a successful program at Digital Harbor from scratch. How were you able to get that done?
Coach: My first coach was my grandfather in Jamaica on our farm and he had one rule "If you don't work, you don't eat." I have never forgotten that rule and it is applied to our foundational principals at Digital which are "Hard work, Sacrifice, and Commitment." Every player comes into the program knowing exactly what to expect. We don't just talk about grades - we make it a priority. We don't just talk about getting better, we make it a priority both as an athlete and especially as a person. I don't just coach basketball, I am also a life coach as well and so when it all comes together, the end product is the success the student-athletes obtain. And it's not just their success of going to college, on a free basketball scholarship but being able to walk through the door of any opportunity and feel a great sense of empowerment and encouragement. This is not just a job, its a calling. Its a fulfillment of being obliged to all the people who along my walk who said a kind word or provide righteous guidence and examples for me. Through my work as a teacher, mentor, coach, and person, this is my way of saying thank you.
695: What do you teach at Digital Harbor?
Coach: I am a special educator with an emphasis in the subject area English.
695: What challenges are you facing with the program?
Coach: The challenges for the program are the same as the challenges I face with the student-athletes who participate i.e. a willingness to want to work hard; a willingness to be able to be committed; and a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to become the best student-athlete possible. There is also the challenge presented by the private schools in-that too many parents are convinced that the only good education in Baltimore City is a private school education. This equates to many of the superbly gifted 8th graders end up going private when in fact there are some very good public schools in the city and Digital Harbor, I think, is one of those "best kept" secrets. I think and pray this is going to change and parents will begin to trust the public schools and give us an opportunity, along with them, to have a positive impact on their children.
695: How do you feel about the overall direction of girls basketball in the area?
Coach: I think Baltimore City is producing student-athletes who, if they do the work, both academic and athletic, they are being given opportunities to go onto colleges and from major DI schools right down to junior colleges. To me this is the true measure and the defining worth of what we are doing as coaches. The truth is and I really want to make this point very clear to anyone who might read this article: NO HIGH SCHOOL COACH CAN GET ANY STUDENT-ATHLETE INTO COLLEGE - high school coaches can contact a college coach and have a discussion but without the student having done their academic work and having spent time developing their game based on improved skill-set, college will only be the dream they talk about but rarely realized. Even if the coach have a great relationship with a college coach, its still going to come down to the student and then the athlete. In this, I think Baltimore City is doing well for itself. Last year's senior graduates went on to a wide varity of DI; DII; DIII and Jucos. This could not have happened, especially the ones who went to major or mid-major DI programs without meeting the NCAA academic requirements for incoming freshman. By itself, that speaks volume.
695: You don't usually participate in Fall leagues. What's your philosophy on that?
Coach: I have nothing against Fall leagues, its just that during that time of the school year our focus is on academics and making sure the student-athletes who participate in our program put academics first by placing an emphasis on our mandatory Study Hall. Besides, there are no college coaches attending Fall leagues that I know of and you also run the risk of getting an athlete hurt which could possibly negate them from playing ball in the winter which is their best opportunity to be seen by college coaches. I also don't know of any college program in the country whose athletes participate in Fall leagues. I do know first hand that many have their athletes in a variety of strength and conditioning programs and mandatory study halls. I have yet to hear a coach who has won a state title say it was as a direct result of playing in a Fall league. We have been blessed to have participated in the state Final Four, 3 years running and did not participate in any Fall leagues any of those years. As a result of making our Fall league academics, we have never lost a player to academic failure in 9 years. Everyone's focus is different, Fall ball is just not one of ours at this time.
695: How is this year's team looking so far?
Coach: I once heard Coach K say " Athletes who come into our program adapt themselves to our program, the program [philosophy] does not change from year to year to the new athlete." The same holds true for what wo do with our student-athletes. So, though we were blessed to graduated 5 seniors last year [Asia Logan - University of Pittsburg; Janay Brinkley - Middle Tennessee State University; Nichelle Groom - Cecil Community College; Jakale Watson - Herkimer College, Albany, NY; and Kirsten Spence - Morgan State University to study engineering] we are back in the mix of preparation - At the time of this discussion, I would give us a C+ as we continue to do the necessary work.
695: What do you do besides coach basketball?
Coach: I find serenity in classical and old-school gospel music. I also enjoy reading and writing. However, I love what I do as a coach and so I also find solace just being in the gym.
695: There's been some talk of re-alignment of the city schools with Digital, Western, Dunbar, Poly, City and Patterson in one league. Do you know anything about that? What do you think?
Coach: I have not been informed about such an alignment, however, if in fact it's true, it would make for some exciting local basketball when you consider the teams mentioned.
695: Thanks for your time and good luck this season.
Coach: Great day to you Brother, I pray all is well today. Shalom.
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