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A mentor through hardships

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Written by M.F. Iksan

When you ask a young basketball player what’s their goal, almost 99.9% will answer to make it and succeed in NBA.

However, to make the NBA you need more than talent.

You need to work hard, you need athleticism, you need timing, you need a lucky break, and more than anything, you need guidance in case you can’t make it straight to the NBA. That’s where Ken McDonald comes in.

Not too long ago the NBA D-League was an afterthought. Can’t make it to the NBA? Make fortunes playing in Europe and if you’re lucky, NBA teams will start calling. Few people choose the Developmental League route and for a logical reason. Why spend time playing in a league not really well known, low on exposure, and give you a lower chance to get to NBA than playing professionally overseas?

That all started to change when former NBA commissioner David Stern announced a plan to make the NBA D-League close to the league we all know right now, as a true minor league system for NBA.

Now an estimated 33% of players (data from 2013-2014 seasons) in NBA had spent some time in the D-League. And with alumnus such as Danny Green, Patty Mills, Aaron Brooks, Jeremy Lin, Marcin Gortat and more, the NBA D-League is the way to go for a prospect that comes with a label of “one year too early”, “still needs to work on fundamentals” and so on. Formerly an afterthought, the D-League growth is encouraging.

From D-League to a key component on championship team. Danny Green and Patty Mills have a lot of reasons to high-five each other these days.

No stranger to a long and spiraling way himself, Ken McDonald started his coaching career more than 20 years ago. He began as an assistant coach at Clemson University for then head coach Rick Barnes.

He would go on to hone his coaching skills at the University of Georgia and Western Kentucky University (both as an assistant coach) before being reunited with Rick Barnes at the University of Texas between 2004 to 2008.

After that, Ken McDonald finally got his first chance at a head coach position at Western Kentucky University. He inherited a strong roster that had made a Sweet 16 appearance the year before.

McDonald led Western Kentucky to 25-8 record and a second round berth in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately in 2011, the Hilltoppers started off 5-11 and fired McDonald from Western Kentucky.

Afterward, Ken McDonald started his coaching career with the Austin Spurs. He started as an assistant coach for one season and now in his third season as a head coach.

And Ken McDonald does not need a remainder as to why he loves coaching the D-League.

“There isn’t a better feeling than telling a player that they made it,” McDonald told NBA.com.

And with a quintet of players receiving NBA call-ups in the last year under McDonald (Jonathon Simmons, Kyle Anderson, JaMychal Green, Jarell Eddie and Bryce Cotton) he’s gotten to taste that good feeling several times.

Armed with a new contract and an added experience, don’t be surprised if McDonald sends more of his pupils to the NBA. He is a mentor after all.

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