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Reed Arena's 12th Man

October 02, 2013
Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)

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Blake McDonald goes from ordinary student to senior leader for Aggie Basketball

by Abby Drake '15

From the time they set foot on campus, Aggies are reminded of the story of the 12th Man.

Student E. King Gill was called from the bleachers during a football game in 1922 and stood on the sidelines, ready to go in for the Aggies. Although he was never needed to play, his readiness to go in for the team echoes the Aggie Spirit.

Senior men’s basketball player Blake McDonald is not only a modern-day 12th Man—but so much more.

"I just try to prepare myself every day to come in and put in extra work. I let the guys know that I am working hard and I am right there with them...I try to be an enouragement and a leader in that way."

- Blake McDonald

McDonald played basketball growing up, lettering three years at Klein High School and earning team awards such as first-team all-district, team MVP and district defensive MVP.

Still, he was not highly recruited to play at the college level. Raised as an Aggie since birth, he decided to attend Texas A&M without a scholarship and focus on his studies.

When he heard about walk-on tryouts for the men's basketball team, McDonald hit the gym and decided to take a chance, not thinking his dreams would ever come to fruition. The day that he made the team became the best day in his life.

“The first semester of my freshman year, they announced that they would be holding walk-on tryouts,” McDonald explained. “I just decided to go out there and try out. I knew if I didn’t, I would regret it. I started to get back in shape, going up to the [Student Recreation Center] to play, and I had a really good tryout. It is such an awesome blessing to have the chance to be here.”

Still, life as a walk-on is not an easy one, especially at a Division I school. McDonald did not think he would ever play meaningful minutes but his Aggie Spirit shined through.

“We have been fortunate to have some very good walk-ons,” Texas A&M Director of Player Development Barry Davis admitted. “It is the basis of the program. But Blake is the ultimate walk-on. He has the right attitude, one that is like ‘What’s next?’ People talk about giving 110 percent effort. He actually gives that. He gives that knowing ‘I may never get into the game but if they do call on me, I am ready.’”

For two years, McDonald worked hard in every practice but only picked up a few minutes here and there. Then, in the spring of 2013, he got his big break on the road against Auburn. He played a career-high number of minutes and assisted the Aggies in a 65-56 win over the Tigers. But the momentum didn’t stop there.

A few weeks later he was able to step up as the 12th Man. Senior Elston Turner was out with an injury and a starter was needed. McDonald rose to the occasion and received his first career start against Arkansas in Fayetteville.

At the end of the 2012-13 season he was honored by his team with both the Strength and Conditioning Award and the Unsung Hero Award. Perhaps that is where McDonald shines the most as a true 12th Man-- he exhibits the qualities of an Aggie without expecting anything in return.

Day in and day out, he shows up to practice and works his heart out. He pushes himself every day to be the best that he can be. He never “takes off a play” in practice and gives each exercise his full commitment.

McDonald doesn’t just exert himself in practice, though. In addition to playing for the Aggies, he is a member of the prestigious Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) degree path in the Mays Business School. Within a five-year span, he will graduate with a degree in accounting and a master’s degree in finance while balancing studies with practice.

“He has shown his readiness, but it is the value which he brings to practice—his effort, his attitude, his basketball intelligence, his example off the court and what he does in the classroom, his ideas about life and the goals he sets,” Davis expressed. “He is the ultimate guy that you would like to have in the program, not only as a walk-on but as a scholarship player.”

With the loss of seniors Jarod Jahns, Elston Turner and Ray Turner, McDonald and fellow senior Fabyon Harris needed to step up to fill the leadership role.

“It is different being the senior on the team and having guys look up to you now,” McDonald admitted. “I just try to prepare myself every day to come in and put in extra work. I let the guys know that I am working hard and I am right there with them. I try to give them something to look up to on the court and I try to be an encouragement and a leader in that way.”

On a team that consists of only four upperclassmen returners, perhaps McDonald is right where he needs to be. Although he may not get the playing time of scholarship athletes, he is exhibiting the leadership and hard-working qualities that one would hope to see in the leadership of the team.

After all, games are usually only 40 minutes--but character is a full-time commitment on and off the court.

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