Trey McDonald's Path Is That of a Typical Senior Role Player

By Nicholas Jervey on March 8, 2015 at 7:15 am

From time to time, college basketball announcers pick certain players that they love to talk about. Dick Vitale yells about PTPers, Bill Raftery yells about onions, and when one of Gus Johnson's chosen few makes a great play, he can shatter crystal on command. Ohio State's Trey McDonald is one of the chosen few, but not in the most flattering way.

Today, four Buckeyes who have played their entire careers at Ohio State will be honored on Senior Day. Three of them (Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams) have had a mixture of success and frustration, while the fourth is McDonald, whose career has been mostly frustration.

ESPN color commentator Dan Dakich has called various Ohio State games this season, and without fail he has suggested that McDonald's career would be better off if he had taken a redshirt before this year. Dakich's supreme belief in the redshirt has become a running joke with Buckeye fans, mostly because of the player in question. Trey? Why would we want another year with him?

McDonald began his Ohio State career as a three-star recruit from Battle Creek, Michigan in Ohio State's 2011 recruiting class. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, McDonald had the size to be an effective player in the block. On defense, he had the length and toughness to alter shots, rebound and bang bodies underneath the basket.

His career began much as any freshman's would. McDonald was expected to be a backup for Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. He appeared less frequently than expected but still fulfilled that role, as McDonald averaged 2.9 minutes per game across 13 games.

Once Sullinger left, McDonald was unable to capitalize on an opening in playing time. He appeared in 19 games, a slight improvement, but Trey's weakness on offense was apparent. As flawed as Amir Williams was, McDonald was not well-rounded enough or quick enough on his feet to be a regular contributor. This would be about the time grumbling about his development would begin.

McDonald would become a full-fledged member of Ohio State's rotation in his junior season. As the backup big man, McDonald struggled to make an impact on offense. A high foul rate rate made staying on the court difficult, and a high turnover rate did him no favors in securing a larger role in the offense. Even so, he played in all 35 games.

Those hoping for miraculous improvement in McDonald's senior year would be disappointed, but he certainly has performed better on the court. His offensive rating is up, his assist and block percentages are up, his rebounding is significantly up, his assist and block percentage up. McDonald used to be a miserable 33 percent free throw shooter; now he is making 54 percent of his free throws. He is less foul prone, and he turns over the ball less often. If you're in need of bench depth, you could certainly do worse than McDonald.

In some ways, being the least-heralded member of the 2011 recruiting class has helped and hurt Trey McDonald's career. He was not burdened with the high expectations that have made Amir Williams such a lightning rod, but his journey in Columbus has been rough at times.

Here's a harsh truth: not every player who puts on the scarlet and gray is meant to become great. Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner and Mike Conley blossomed into superstars, true. In the Big Ten, there are dozens of players who put in the work, play four years and graduate without having their names etched in stone. Anthony Lee, the third senior big man, has been injured for much of this season and still been a role player the Buckeyes would rather have than not.

The typical career path for a basketball player is this: sit out as a freshman, get scant playing time as a sophomore, become a contributor as a junior, hold your own as a senior. That's what Trey McDonald has done, and it may be why he isn't as well regarded as his classmates: because he's too normal.

Trey McDonald is a Buckeye, part of a class that has won 107 games. And if Trey McDonald, a person who has sweat and bled like every other person on the Ohio State men's basketball team over the last four years, is supposed to represent failure, then forgive me for not understanding what the wailing and gnashing of teeth over his career is all about.

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