Eric McDonald is not taking his final season of university basketball for granted.
The fourth-year guard has been in and out of the Mustangs lineup throughout the beginning of the Western Mustangs season with multiple injuries to his ankle and to the thumb on his shooting hand.
But McDonald has been a key contributor for the Mustangs since returning from the Christmas break. He's averaged 10 points per game as Western has gone 2-2 since Jan. 6.
McDonald's energy, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, was an obvious factor in wins over York and Queen's. And it's an energy that comes from a player who is thankful for every minute he has left on the court.
"I’ve had a couple of bad injuries this season and it’s taken some time to get used to playing with my brace but I’m slowly starting to figure things out," said McDonald on his return to being a key contributor for the Mustangs. "There were a couple times at the start of the year when it was looking like I needed surgery and I wouldn’t play at all, so I’m just trying to play every game like it could be my last and enjoy any time I have left with my teammates."
McDonald's contributions on the court and in the program are more intangible than tangible. His statistics aren't eye-popping. But the leadership and intensity exhibited by the Mustangs co-captain will be a pivotal example of how this young team needs to play moving forward.
"We’re a really young team so leading by example is always important," said McDonald. "In high school most players can get away with being more talented than others to help their teams win games, but in the OUA there’s so much talent that it usually comes down to who wants it more and who’s willing to work harder."
"We’re a dangerous team when everyone is out there giving it their all," added McDonald. "So I'm just trying to help set the tone and keep the energy high."
The Mustangs look to have a bright future, with players like Eriq Jenkins and Omar Shiddo forming the nucleus of a team that has showed the ability to compete with some of the province's top programs.
But that future will be realized only if those young players look to veterans like McDonald, Alex Coote and Jedson Tavernier as examples of how to compete moving forward.
Head coach Brad Campbell believes that the combination of McDonald's on-court performance and locker room leadership will be pivotal for the team to succeed in the second half of the season.
"How he plays really helps our depth with his energy and output," said Campbell. "You were able to see it this weekend. Eric not only has a great impact on the court but also off the court as an older guy who has been a very good captain this year."
Campbell and the Mustangs coaching staff will continue to look to McDonald for mature leadership and to provide depth coming off the bench.
"Eric is a guy who really provides a lot of veteran leadership for us and is someone who can handle the ball and shoot the ball and understands what’s going on within our systems," said Campbell. "He’s been through it and has a lot of experience, so with such a young team it’s great to be able to get him back at a level where he can play and contribute and give us good minutes off the bench.”