Athlete of the Week

Charlottesville High School girls basketball player Destinee McDonald has been named the Schewels Athlete of the Week. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress

Under the direction of defensive-minded head coach Jim Daly, the Charlottesville High School girls’ basketball team enters each game with two primary objectives in mind: Create havoc and tire out its opponent.

From the moment the ball is inbounded on the opposite side of the court, the Black Knights swarm the ball handler in an attempt to cause turnovers and set up easy scoring opportunities.  

While the CHS players and fans enjoy the full-court game, the aggressive style can, at times, lead to recklessness, fatigue and slight confusion about where to be on the court.

Thankfully for Daly and the Black Knights, junior point guard Destinee McDonald is present to guide her team through the fast-paced action on both offense and defense. 

Typically one of the fastest players on the floor each night, McDonald provides Charlottesville with an energetic boost and the aggression needed to rattle opposing guards.

Even from outside of the gym, McDonald can be heard barking out the defensive plays and constant rotations required in order to create turnovers in the backcourt.

While the casual observer may confuse what the Black Knights are doing on the floor with chaos and unorganized mayhem, McDonald feels right at home in the full-court press. 

“We know that our opponents get tired when they start walking up the court, or if they start the game ready to play, and then the third quarter, they start walking, they start setting poor screens, or they start [grabbing their jerseys] when they get in the game,” McDonald said of the Black Knights’ strategy. “If I was the other team, I just couldn’t do it.”

Last Tuesday night against Orange County, McDonald turned in one of the finest performances of her CHS career.

Looking to keep her team perfect in the Jefferson District, McDonald dropped a career-high 32 points, shooting over 60 percent from the floor in a 64-54 Black Knight victory.

McDonald’s contributions went far beyond scoring. The junior also recorded five takeaways, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists in the victory.

After steering the Knights through adversity in the second half and leading her team in nearly every statistical category, McDonald has been recognized as the Schewels Athlete of the Week.

McDonald and the Knights imposed their will in the first half, rattling the Hornets with the press and creating opportunities for layups. The junior was the benefactor of several early Orange turnovers, netting nine of her career-high 32 points in the first eight minutes.

As the game went on and the Hornets adjusted to guarding McDonald closer, the explosive guard expanded her range. McDonald dialed it up from long distance six times and connected on three 3-pointers.

Despite being fatigued from playing nearly the entire game, McDonald was able to settle down the at charity stripe, draining seven of her nine free-throw attempts.

McDonald’s scoring was spread evenly throughout the game, and the energetic point guard was not even aware of her impressive total until well after the contest had ended.

“I thought I had like 18 points or maybe 20, definitely not [32],” said McDonald, who scored 24 points in the Black Knights' 50-49 loss to William Monroe in The Daily Progress/NBC29 Holiday Basketball Classic on Monday. “I was shocked. I was like, ‘Are you sure it’s me and not a person above me or below me? Are you sure it’s the right Destinee? I had to look at the book and check for myself.”

McDonald’s previous career-high was 20 points, which she scored at Culpeper in a thrilling road victory in early December. Her offensive showcase against the Hornets marked the first time in Daly’s 3.5-year tenure in which a Black Knight had eclipsed 30 points in a game.

The Knights needed every one of McDonald’s 32 points, as Orange County did not go away quietly. Trailing for nearly the entire game, the Hornets battled back, and eventually grabbed a slim lead in the third quarter.

Seeing her team’s once-sizable advantage slip away, McDonald revved up the intensity, and instructed her fellow Knights to do the same. 

“I was talking to my teammates and we were saying, ‘We got to get it back.’ This is not the way it’s supposed to be,’” McDonald said. “Our back line started talking more, we started calling out screens, we ran the court, and we just executed.”

With the Knights clinging to a one-point lead in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, McDonald connected on a running one-hander to return the momentum to CHS. The two-point field goal helped spark a 9-0 CHS run over the final 1:35 of the game. During the run, McDonald, and her backcourt mate Alaijah Ragland gashed the exhausted Hornets, and helped keep the ball on Orange’s side of the court.

The 10-point victory helped the Knights improve to 5-0 in the Jefferson District, and was also a big step forward in McDonald’s progression as the Knights’ full-time point guard.

McDonald began her Charlottesville career as a shooting guard in 2013-14, but began to share the point guard duties with Zaneua Thomas last winter.

 This season, McDonald has become the Knights’ primary ball-handler and “Coach on the floor” when the full-court press is being applied.

With increased responsibility comes increased playing time for McDonald. Due to the small size of the CHS roster, McDonald has to play for nearly all 32 minutes with maybe one or two short rests sprinkled in throughout the game.

“It’s pretty hard, because I rarely get out of the game unless I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m about to die,’ and he takes me out of the game,” McDonald said with a chuckle. “We rotate people in and out, but I barely get out of the game. It’s hard on me, so I have to be mentally ready for it.”

With McDonald well aware of the added responsibilities awaiting her on the court this season, the junior decided to use her professional life in order to get ready for the high school basketball gauntlet.

McDonald, who works at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia, became a running coach for the organization this past offseason.

While spending countless hours helping children in her community, McDonald was able to participate in a team-like setting and condition herself for the heavy amount of running that would take place in the coming months.

During the fall season, McDonald attended school from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., and then participate in the allotted open-gym time for several hours. After working out with her teammates, McDonald then proceeded to the Boys and Girls Club for even more conditioning. After spending time running with the children, McDonald continued the work out by herself at the Boys and Girls Club gym before finally deciding to call it a day.

Between Charlottesville’s fall season games and her time at the Boys and Girls Club, McDonald would not get home until 9:30-10 p.m. on most nights.

Though McDonald’s mother grew irritated at times with the long hours spent playing basketball, she knew that her daughter was chasing her dream, and always kept a plate of dinner in the microwave ready for the hungry point guard when she arrived home.

“At the Boys and Girls club, we did the four-milers and we just did a lot of running,” McDonald said. “I also came to every workout that was available to me. I worked out at the Boys and Girls Club every day after workout. After our fall season games, I just stayed in the gym, and worked out late with people.”

After spending the evening hours inhaling her dinner and competing her homework before bed, McDonald was ready to take the court the next day.

Rest is not something that McDonald or her Black Knight teammates are interested in until late-February/early March.

McDonald is a part of a five-person junior class that has come close, but has fallen short of the state playoffs for the past two years. The Knights have won the Conference 23 Championship in back-to-back seasons, only to be sent packing in the regional semifinals, just one game shy of the state tournament on both occasions.

Prior to the start of the season, McDonald and the Knights’ road to Richmond grew longer.

Top programs E.C. Glass, George Washington (Danville) and Liberty Christian Academy joined Conference 23 this academic year, making Charlottesville’s task of reaching states much more difficult.

Despite the increased challenges, McDonald is more eager than ever to play in the Siegel Center at the end of the season. While McDonald often yells at the top of her lungs during practices and games, the loudest rallying cry heard from her vocal cords screams “states.”

“That’s our No. 1 goal, to get to states,” McDonald said. “If someone comes up to Alaijah [Ragland], ‘Get to states!’ If somebody comes up to [CHS power forward] Daeja [Wade], ‘Get to states!’ That’s our No. 1 goal.”

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Drew Goodman is a correspondent for The Daily Progress.

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