The Clark Atlanta University Panthers were flat on Saturday afternoon and it was going to take a better than average second half to get back into the game against a hit shooting Central State University Marauders team. Marauders senior guard Davione Daniels found a way to continue getting free for open shots resulting in the Panthers being behind nine pints at the break. One of the additions to this year’s Panthers team, a team that won the 2016 SIAC conference tournament and returned two senior starters, is Austin Donaldson, a 6’2” point guard that Panthers second-year head coach and former NBA guard Darrell Walker calls “A calming influence on our team”. A first-year transfer student from Georgia State University where as a sophomore he averaged a little more than two points, one rebound and one assists per game in a limited role, Donaldson is now the player Walker and assistant coach and former Panther guard Alfred Jordan trust to get the team under control on and off the ball.
With two Georgia High School Association state championships under his belt, Donaldson came to Georgia State with a massive reputation and is now living up to it at Clark Atlanta as he always knew he would. “I was always confident within myself,” said Donaldson hours before the Panthers home game against Kentucky State. He had been “getting some laundry done” and relaxing before another conference tilt. Apparently the calming influence likes to calm down before games by doing household chores. OPn his season thus far he says, “I’m taking on a role I’m pretty much use to, being a leader and also learning a lot from others.” Donaldson was recruited by a laundry list [Editor’s note: Pun clearly intended] of Division I programs coming out of the powerhouse program at Jonesboro High School in Clayton County. He chose to play for Ron Hunter and the Panthers and does not regret a thing despite now being at Clark Atlanta, a Division II program by conference affiliation only. “I still without a doubt love everyone at Georgia State,” he says with a laugh that makes you feel that he means it. “They just wanted the best for me and I’m blessed to be in this predicament.”
This particular predicament on Saturday had Donaldson starting the second half of the Panthers game against Central State locking in on defense at the head of Walker’s full court press and those are one of the many times that Donaldson seems to shine brightest. “He’s playing good and he’s solid,” says Walker as he leads to something about his junior guard, “but he’s also a really good solid defensive player. Austin has a chance to be conference defensive player of the year in my opinion.” Known for his defensive abilities coming out of Arkansas as a first round pick, 12th overall of the New York Knicks in 1983 Walker knows of what he speaks. “I’m taking it one game at a time and I don’t mind sacrificing for a win at any time.” Finishing the game against Central State with 15 points, five rebounds (four on the offensive glass), two assists and most importantly four steals, Donaldson made his presence known and far be it for me to say that Daniels’ second half with Donaldson draped all over him didn’t go as well as his first half. The Panthers won their 10th game of the season (their only loss coming at the University of Alabama-Huntsville earlier this season) and Donaldson had his sixth double-figure scoring game of the season (he scored a season-high 19 points in a win at Tuskegee University on November 27) and his fourth game of the season with at least four steals. His season-high five steals came in a home win over Flagler College on November 17. “We started off slow,” said Donaldson about the Central State game, “and I pretty much wanted to do whatever the team needed in order to win. After that I just locked in.” Donaldson has more than quadrupled his numbers from his last season on court (he had to sit out last year due to arcane NCAA transfer rules) and is now averaging 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team high 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game. He’s also second on the team in blocked shots with eight. 6’10 center and Santa Clara University transfer senior center Akil Douglas has nine. I guess coach Walker was right about Donaldson’s current defensive abilities and potential. “Austin can guard multiple positions and he’s still hungry,” says Walker. “He’s still learning.”
“The one thing I love about Austin is that he challenges our seniors everyday in practice,” said Jordan. “He holds them accountable and brings out another side of both AJ Williams and Damien Davis.”
The education -on and off the court- that Donaldson received at Georgia State is something that has shaped the versatile player you are seeing today. “I’ve been in a good position, it seems like a better position now and I appreciate everyone here,” said Donaldson of his second chance at basketball stardom at Clark Atlanta towards the end of our interview. “When the opportunity presented itself heer at Clark Atlanta coach Walker contacted me and I decided to give it a shot. Coach Walker and coach Jordan believe in me and I just want to bring my talents to the table and just try to implement them to what’s going on here at Clark.”
On Monday night in a 94-67 home win over Kentucky State the new and improved Austin Donaldson struck again with 15 points (3-4 from three-point range), six rebounds, four assists and of course two steals. Don’t forget the steals. “Our goal is to be nationally ranked,” said Donaldson before the Kentucky State game. “Coach Walker is expecting way more out of us and I demand a lot of my game as well. I love my school, I have great teammates and this has been nothing of a blessing.”
His coach has similar feelings about Donaldson’s contributions this season. “Austin has been a pleasant surprise,” said Walker.
A blessing, a pleasant surprise? Maybe for for Clark Atlanta players, coaches and fans but certainly not for the opposing players, those two steals per game are far from a blessing.