A Return to DI Basketball

Matt Donlan Joins Roster After Knee Injury

By Jeff Brown

Outside of second-team All-Horizon leaguer Bobby Hain, not much is known about this year’s Youngstown State University basketball team. The team is replacing a majority of its production from a year ago and is inexperienced.

The new faces on the team will be forced to step in and become leaders on and off the court, and perhaps no one has stepped into this role more than junior forward Matt Donlan.

The Australian native moved to Sacramento, California at age 10, but his love for basketball was established well before that. Donlan began playing for a semi-professional team in Australia at age five and has been in love with the game since.

“It was the only sport I’ve played my whole life,” Donlan said. “I started with a local team there, [in] Australia. Their system is kind of different over there — they have semi-pro teams all the way down to five years old. So you move through the ranks like that, kind of like an organization.”

Donlan became a dominant force when he reached high school. He was a four-year letter winner for Capital Christian High School and was named California’s Division 5 Player of the Year.

After a successful high school campaign, Donlan chose to attend South Dakota State University to continue his basketball career. He was redshirted his freshman season, but after a knee injury the following year, the coaching staff and Donlan decided it would be best for both parties to move on.

“My first practice back was actually our first official practice of the season, but by that time the coaches had already made up their minds, and at the end of the season we talked and just decided to move on,” Donlan said.

Donlan wasn’t going to let that be the end of his basketball career. The next season he joined the Iowa Western Community College team and flourished at this level. Donlan led the team in 3-pointers made and shot over 80 percent from the foul line en route to an Honorable Mention All-Region XI selection.

“It kind of gave me my confidence back. It helped me to get on the floor and play some basketball and get some reps in. It gave me the right exposure to get me to the next level,” Donlan said.

YSU took notice of Donlan while in high school and thought he would be perfect for the program.

“We keep track of these kids and just because we don’t recruit them necessarily or get them, we keep an eye on the guys that we like,” recruiting coordinator Michael Wernicki said. “I know the staff at Iowa Western really well. We’ve recruited their kids for years.”

Donlan’s role on the team is yet to be determined, but it can be expected for the junior to see important minutes at both guard and forward.

“He’s [an] older guy with some experience. So he’s a guy that’s a little bit more mature that we’re going to need throughout the year, but he’s also going to be a guy we go to to make shots. He’s a very good shooter and one of the guys in our program that can get his own shot off the dribble,” Wernicki said.

With his journey back to Division I now complete, Donlan’s biggest challenge is still ahead of him, proving that he can still play at this level.

“It’s been a while since he’s played at the Division I level,” Wernicki said. “Even though he played at a very high level junior college — a really good program — when you get back to Division I level it’s going to take some time to get the rust off. You just go to work hard and play through it.”