Aarion McDonald’s performance last week (23 and 21 points) is eerily similar to Washington star Kelsey Plum, who tallied 23 and 22 points in her first two starts.
The family front-yard basketball battles growing up in Fresno, Calif., prepared Aarion McDonald for what has been a fantastic start to her freshman year with the No. 11-ranked Washington women’s basketball team.
She’s the youngest of six children in a family that settled scores, shared laughs and built lifelong memories on hot summer days in the driveway.
“Everyone in my family played basketball, and even my parents would get involved,” McDonald said. “We’d play game after game — teams of three-on-three — every weekend.
“If you lost, you did pushups. I’m not going to lie, I did a lot of pushups. I took the ‘L’ a lot.”
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McDonald’s eldest brother Tre’Von Willis, who played at UNLV and is 10 years older, and her dad, Aaron McDonald, starred in those family games that she cherished.
“There was a lot of trash-talking,” said the 18-year-old Aarion. “A lot of fouling. People getting hurt, but we didn’t stop. We kept playing. It was so fun.
“The last time I played like that with my family, I was in the sixth grade. But I wish I could go back to those times.”
It’s a good memory — one that keeps her grounded after a scintillating start to her first year at Washington.
McDonald, a four-star prospect who ranked 55th on ESPN’s top-100 list, was the highest-ranked recruit among the Huskies’ four-player incoming class.
McDonald, a 5-foot-7 guard, scored in double figures during all three of UW’s games during an exhibition tour to Australia.
However, a lower-back injury forced her to miss the first seven games of the Huskies’ regular season.
During her collegiate debut, McDonald scored six points in 12 minutes as a reserve and she came off the bench again in the following game and had another six points in 20 minutes.
Then last week, UW coach Mike Neighbors moved McDonald into the starting lineup. She scored 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting in 25 minutes against Cal State Northridge. In UW’s last outing, McDonald had 21 points while canning 8 of 13 shots. She had three three-pointers in both games.
“When they called my name (during player introductions), I was so nervous,” McDonald said. “As soon as the ball was jumped, I felt fine. The nerves were gone.”
McDonald’s performance last week is eerily similar to UW star Kelsey Plum, who tallied 23 and 22 points in her first two starts.
Four years later, Plum is the Pac-12 career scoring leader who is on pace to break the NCAA record.
“They get similar things accomplished with different tactics,” Neighbors said. “The comparisons will be there just with the left-handedness alone and the knack for scoring.
“With (McDonald), she’s got an uncanny ability as a freshman to make defenses wrong. It takes a lot of kids more than one year to figure that out, but she’s taking full advantage of the other team putting their ‘best’ defensive player on Kelsey. Because here’s the problem: If you do that then that kid is going to shoot about seven layups because she’s so good off the bounce and she gets inside the paint.”
McDonald also is UW’s quickest player, which has allowed the Huskies to turn up the defensive pressure.
“We told her to take a few more gambles than what I’m traditionally comfortable with,” Neighbors said. “But she can really be disruptive.”
Despite playing in just four games, McDonald is tied for second on the team with nine steals.
“She’s a matchup nightmare for defenses,” Neighbors said.