Clemson center will play in his second Sweet 16 game, with a second team
OMAHA, Neb. — When Clemson tips off its game with top-seeded Kansas in tonight’s Midwest Regional Semifinals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Mark Donnal will lay claim to some kind of history.
Though no one is exactly sure where he fits in, but the graduate student is sure to be one of the few players in the history of the NCAA Tournament to play in two Sweet 16s with two different teams in back-to-back years.
“It is definitely cool,” Donnal said. “I don’t know how many people can say they have done that.”
Last year, Donnal played at Michigan, where he was part of Wolverines’ team that came together and advanced to the Sweet 16. This year, he and is a member of a Clemson team that is making its first Sweet 16 appearance in 20 years.
“I’m just excited to be here and with a team that has not been to the tournament in a long time,” he said. “It makes it extra special. This is a great group of guys to be around and I’m excited to keep on playing.
“It is exciting both ways. Just being a part of the last 16 teams that are able to play for a national championship is super exciting for everybody to be a part of.”
Donnal describes himself as an unselfish player who just wants to contribute and make the most of his opportunities.
“When I got on the team, I quickly knew what my role was going to be and I have tried to do my best to fulfill that,” he said.
His role is to come off the bench at center behind All-ACC defensive player Elijah Thomas. Donnal has averaged 3.6 points and 1.7 rebounds a night, while playing 12.6 minutes per game.
“I love him to death,” Thomas said. “He brings a different feel to the game when I’m sitting and he is playing. He has helped me so much with my defense because he is such a physical specimen at walling up, creating space for rebounds. He comes out and he plays hard. I think because of that he has got me to step my game up and the other post players.”
Donnal said he knew almost instantly when he came to visit Clemson last summer that it was the place for him to continue his career.
“I could tell they were all great guys,” he said. “I got to know them pretty quickly when we went to Spain. I think that was the biggest thing for me. I wanted to go to a team that got those practices over the summer. I was able to get to know the guys really well and it has been really crucial to the success this year.”
Thomas said Donnal has meant a lot to the Tigers’ success and he is a big reason why the Tigers are back in the Sweet 16.
“He is the goat. G.O.A.T. He is the goat,” Thomas said. “For him to reach two consecutive Sweet 16s, that means everything to this locker room. We are happy for him. I love him to death, I’m so glad he is here.
“He fit instantly. I am real good friends with Mark. We play video games together. He is next door to me. We hang out outside of basketball all the time. He fit right in here.”
After playing for three years at Michigan, Donnal said Clemson made sense to him. He loved the family atmosphere. He loved the coaching staff and the players.
“It is very family oriented. Everybody is extremely kind,” he said. “Everybody welcomed me with open arms. I felt at home as soon as I got here. Everybody is super excited with everything we have to done this year, so I’m just happy to be a part of it.”