Getting to Know Mark Donnal

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Mark Donnal committed to Michigan almost two years ago on June 15th, 2011. Donnal and Austin Hatch both verballed to John Beilein when they were extended offers on that first day in 2013 and Donnal has seen his career flourish since then. Watch his senior highlights, his AAU highlights, and read the scouting reports but here’s an in-depth question and answer session with Michigan’s incoming big man focused on everything from Donnal’s trip to the Final Four to his favorite video games and movies.

What was it like going to the Final Four in Atlanta to watch Michigan? 

“It was just a crazy atmosphere in Atlanta. I went down with my parents, and I just couldn’t believe how crazy everything was down there, all the activities that were going on. Being at the game, playing at the Georgia Dome, there were so many people there. I can’t even imagine — it was just so much fun watching the game, I can’t even imagine being a part of something like that, next year, to play in a Final Four like that.”

Was it surreal to see Michigan in the national title game, knowing that you’ll be playing for the Wolverines next year?

“Yeah, exactly. When coach Beilein was recruiting me, he said, “You come to Michigan and you’ll have a chance to play for a national championship.” He’s obviously showed that this past year, getting to the Final Four. He’s proved that his vision, we can definitely accomplish that goal and win a national championship at the University of Michigan. I’m just very humbled that I’m going to be able to be a part of this program, be a part of a great coaching staff and a great team. I’m just ready to get it all started.”

Are you looking forward to learning from Mitch McGary?

“Yeah. I mean, going up against Mitch every day in practice, I know for sure that it’s going to definitely help me out a lot, going up against him. I’ll be ready to go and get better, playing against him. Just watching Mitch play, he’s a guy that just doesn’t quit on any play. His motor is, you know, up there with anyone else in the country. I think going up against him will help me see what it’s going to be like at the next level. He’ll be one of the best big men coming back next year, so going up against him will definitely help us out a lot.”

Can you talk about the success you had with Anthony Wayne this high school season?

“This year, we went 20-5, which is the most wins that we’ve had in a season as a team in Anthony Wayne history. We also made it the furthest in the tournament in Anthony Wayne history, to the regional semis. We ended up getting beat by the Rogers (High School) Rams, who lost in the state championship. It was a great season, I had a lot of fun.”

What did it mean to you to go out like that?

“It means a lot. My high school, my first season we were 1-20. Our coach came in my junior year and he definitely got the program turned around. My senior class was one of the classes I’m hoping will bring Anthony Wayne basketball up to where it needs to be, hopefully winning championships like that every year.”

Where did you see the most improvement in your game throughout the season?

“I would say probably during the tournament, I did not want to go home, so I stepped my game up big time and I did whatever the team needed me to do. Whether it was, you know, getting baskets or playing defense, one of the games, I think I was one block short of a triple-double. That’s what my team needed that game — the defensive presence. So I brought that. I thought that’s where I showed the most improvement during the season.”

Over spring break you traveled with a team from Ohio to Italy and played there. How did that go?

“This was my third time going, I’ve gone three years in a row. It was a great experience. We finally won the tournament this year, and I got tournament MVP, so it was a great experience going up against some of the best competition in Italy there. Just overall, it was a really fun experience playing with those guys. It’s a lot different there. There are some rule changes, like the traveling calls they have there. There’s some different moves that the European big men use. It’s a little bit of an adjustment getting down there and getting accustomed to how they play. It was cool seeing how good the competition is over there.”

What have you seen from Mitch McGary’s development that excites you as a big man?

“One of the games I saw when we were there for the Final Four was against Syracuse, when they put Mitch up in the high post. They had him shooting those mid-range jumpers, and that’s one of the things that coach Beilein said that I would be doing. It was just great to see Mitch playing that role and hitting those shots out there in a game like that.”

What do the coaches have you working on this summer?

“I’ve been working on pick-and-pop. That’s one of the things they said me and Derrick would probably be doing — a lot of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop sets like that. I’ve just been working on my mid-range jumpshot, my post moves, my hook shots both right and left. Those are the main things I’ve been working on.”

What has Andrew Dakich told you about potentially walking on at Michigan?

“He’s visiting on this Monday, that’s when he’s taking his official visit. I know he’s really excited about it. I know he’s got a few walk-on offers. I guess we’ll see in the next couple weeks whether or not he’s going to make his choice and come to Michigan or not.”

What are you most looking forward to when you get to Michigan?

“Just to be a part of the program. I’m just excited to get everything going. Playing in front of a big crowd at Crisler, it’s just going to be awesome.

When you were being recruited, could you envision entering the program the year after Michigan played for a national title?

“I definitely thought it was a possibility, but after it actually happened, it’s just crazy to think about how that could be me up there in a Final Four and how that could be me next season doing that.”

Is there any NBA player out there that you try to emulate in your game?

“No, not really, I don’t think so.”

Who’s your favorite player to watch?

“Favorite player to watch would be LeBron. But I wouldn’t say I try to emulate him in my game (laughs).”

What’s your favorite movie?

“Favorite movie would have to be Anchorman.”

Who’s on your playlist right now?

“Right now I listen to Jay-Z a little bit, Lil Wayne, Wale, those are usually the ones.”

Do you have any weird pre-game rituals you do before games?

“Usually I have my routine, and if I have a good game, I have to do the same thing I did the game before.”

But a bad game would cut off that routine?

“Yeah, definitely.”

Anything you like to eat for a pre-game meal?

“Usually before home games, I go to Subway. It’s near the school, so it’s usually a good pre-game meal for me.”

Do you know what you’ll study at Michigan?

“I’m undecided as of now.”

If you’re not playing basketball, what are you probably doing?

“Probably playing ping-pong or playing XBox, hanging out with friends.”

What games do you play?

“(NBA) 2K13, obviously. I like to play Call of Duty, Halo.”

What is your preferred team in 2k13?

“I usually play with the Thunder. I love playing with Kevin Durant in that game. Or the Knicks. I like Carmelo, too.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“My high school coach would just say go out and play your game. Don’t really think about what everybody else is doing. Just go out and do you, basically.”

  • Jay Z

    Great music choices, Mark.

  • Champswest

    I wish he would have been asked what position(s) he has been told he will likely play or which one(s) he expects to play.

    • Cary Bear

      Everything I have heard has him slotted at the 4.

      • Northern Blue

        He will be great there. That will be his primary position i am guessing too, but I am sure he will get some chances at the 5 to shake things up sometimes and see what a pick and pop 5 looks like in Belein’s offence. I love the fact UM finally has a 4 that is skilled enough to play on the perimeter and big enough to defend a two post line up on other end. Great get by the staff.

        • dafug

          Yep, agreed. I think down the road he and Ricky Doyle will play well together with Doyle being more of a true post. Lots of versatility with the roster now and in the future. Excited to see who the next commitments will be.

    • Joe Stapleton

      I did ask him which positions he feels comfortable playing, and he said the 4 and 5. Don’t think that was in the interview, my bad.

      • Kenny

        don’t feel bad, we all know the answer already.

  • Ryan Parrill

    Great stuff.

    Who’s he going against in practice? /s

  • salama

    Seems like a humble dude, and I like that he likes playing 2K13 with Durant and Melo. If he can hit 35% of his 3′s and be decent as a 4 on D, he’ll have a very good career here. Look at how helpful Watford was to Indiana’s O as a stretch 4 on O with the size to be useful on D.

    Still, I hope he redshirts.

    We have good depth in the frontcourt, where Robinson and McGary will play 70 or so of the 120 minutes available, which leaves only a combined 50 for Morgan, Horford, Beilfeldt at the 4 and 5 and Irvin, Levert and Stauskas playing the 3.

    In 2016-17, we’ll be much better off with him still on the roster as a senior, knocking down shots as a veteran stretch 4 who gives us a 2nd rebounder/shot blocker to start with, and a good smallball 5 if we want to stretch the court with 5 shooters (the Knicks, Heat and Thunder have started doing this, and 4 out 1 in will soon be 5 out with various players crashing the paint). The 2014 class has Doyle, who looks like a 5 in Beilein’s system, and the main 2015 target seems to be Zimmerman, another 5. If Donnal’s shooting is good, he’d be a nice fit next to either of those guys.

    On the other hand, if he outplays Beilfeldt in practice, like Levert must have done to Vogrich, and Beilein really thinks Robinson will play the 4 and McGary will play the 4, he’s a more natural 4 than Horford or Morgan. And we are championship contenders, so that is paramount. Also, only 11 guys on the roster currently, so if he redshirts and McGary or GRII gets hurt, he’d have a chance to play 10-15 a game, like Levert did.

    He seems like the kind of kid MSU has won with. Good shooter to space the floor on offense, decent rebounder and good size on D for his position. You can always use players like this.

    • Champswest

      Every time I see “redshirt”, I am compelled to respond with “We are not likely to see any more 4 and 5 star players redshirt. We are lucky to have them for 2 or 3 years, let alone five.”
      If JB is serious about the position switch for Glenn and Mitch, I see Donnal as the primary back up to Mitch at the 4, Irvin backs up GR3 at the 3, Horford and Morgan at the 5, Nik and Caris at the 2.

      • salama

        The problem with that is that you have Donnal, Irvin and Levert playing about 10 minutes a game.

        Isn’t Donnal redshirting (assuming he’s okay with it and not been lied to/going to transfer) and getting 30 minutes a game from him as a 5th year senior more useful than having him play 10-15 minutes a game behind McGary at the 4 as a freshman, instead of just going with Morgan for 5 minutes there and sliding GRIII to the 4 for another 5-10 minutes with irvin and Levert now competing over 30 minutes total instead of 20?

        Donnal doesn’t seem like a guy looking to the NBA yet, and if he wants to play ball professionally, overseas is his most likely bet. He should welcome a year to refine his shooting, get stronger, compete with 2 lottery picks who play his spot in practice and learn the offense.

        • dafug

          As he said: “We are not likely to see any more 4 and 5 star players redshirt. We are lucky to have them for 2 or 3 years, let alone five.”

          Guys this caliber (top 100) aren’t sticking around for 4 years, let alone 5, very often these days. If he has even a slight chance at the next level he’ll probably leave after his true Junior season (or as a RS soph). If he’s good enough to earn 10 minutes now, give it to him. He’ll likely be asked to play 20-30 mins the next year, so the experience is valuable.

          • ajerome33

            Exactly. People need to get with the times. Very few highly rated kids stay 4 years any more. Talking about kids being around as a senior when they haven’t even stepped on campus yet is foolish. I say if he’s good enough (and I believe he will be), play him now and to heck with redshirting him.

          • jturn14

            I don’t think he redshirts, but to say that he probably won’t stay four years just because he’s top 100 is a little extreme. I would say Donnal’s absolute ceiling is probably having a career like Ryan Kelly. And Kelly stayed four years and his decision to come back didn’t surprise anyone.

      • Kenny

        NBA drafts 60 players every year, rivals final ranking of 2013 has 113 4 and 5 stars. Just don’t see that they will all leave early. More than half of them will not end in NBA.

        If Donnal plays this year, it would be because that he can make a difference between winning and losing. Otherwise, he should have his option open for the 5th year.

  • GregGoBlue

    When he said the coaches were telling him to work on the pick and pop I had visions of us being unable to stop Robbie Hummel in the final home game of the 2011-12 season as he carved us up with that pick and pop.

    Donnal and Hummel are the same height, and have similar skillsets. Hummel had the motor, the leadership ability and the winning mentality to exceed his physical limitations, but I see a lot of similarities in his and Donnal’s game. The next Hummel, perhaps?

    • Northern Blue

      That is exactly what I thought about when I wrote he could see some minutes at the 5. Michigan didn’t have an answer for the Lewis Jackson/ Hummell pick and pop. I see a lot of similarites in that duo as I do with Donnal and Walton.

  • Mr_Sledge

    How does Mark compare to Evan Smotrycz? I’m having a tough time determining how athletic he is. I see people comparing him to Robbie Hummel, but pre knee problems, Hummel was pretty athletic.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      The first major difference is that Donnal has a back to the basket game.

      • Kenny

        Should I add that Smotrycz has a more refined parameter game.

        • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

          Fair. Smotrycz was outside-in and a lot of his perimeter skills took time to develop at the college level. Donnal is inside-out with a three point shot.

  • Wayman Britt

    Very nice interview. He seems very humble and willing to do anything to help the team. Looking forward to watch him develop under Beilein.

  • Bluebufoon

    What impressed me from watching Donnal’s video is his ability and willingness to use the glass both around the basket and on the wing. A big man who can kiss the ball off the glass is very dangerous– its a high percentage shot, you don’t have to be as precise. Two of my favorite U-M Big men Terry Mills and Loy Vaught, both NBA first round picks, for those that don’t remember, excelled with the bank shot and both shot a high percentage from the field.

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