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Oliver High's Donaldson plays basketball in Spain

| Friday, June 19, 2009

He might be the best basketball player from Pittsburgh you've never heard of.

"He's better than any name people are going to be able to come up with, except maybe DeJuan Blair," said Greg Walkovich, who coached Jakim Donaldson at Edinboro University.

Jakim who?

Donaldson attended Oliver High School from 1997-2001 but was not considered an all-City League player. He walked on at Edinboro before finishing his college career in 2005 as a first-team Division II All-American and Player of the Year in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Now, after nearly averaging a double-double in his most recent pro season in Europe, the 6-foot-8 forward admits playing in the NBA would be a dream come true, even though he has revealed no plans to test himself at that level.

"I don't know about the NBA," said the North Side native who has lived in Manchester and Fineview. "For an outsider looking in, it would be unimaginable. I just always had that vision."

Even without the NBA, the once-skinny kid who was 5-foot-8 entering high school has blossomed overseas.

Playing for Cuidad de la Laguna Canarias this year, he earned second-team honors in the LEB Gold league -- the top division in Spain -- and was named to the All-Imports and All-Defensive teams. His backup for much of the season was former Louisville big man David Padgett.

"To do what (Donaldson's) done is just remarkable," Walkovich said. "I saw him play in the Pittsburgh Hoops Classic (at Petersen Events Center in 2001). He was not a good basketball player."

What has changed• Perhaps not even Donaldson can find an answer.

"Basically, yeah, hard work," he said. "Of course, faith in God, too. To be lucky, you gotta be prepared to make decisions that count."

After receiving virtually no interest from college coaches, Donaldson was resigned to attending either Pitt-Greensburg or Penn State-New Kensington.

But something told him he could go for more.

"I called an assistant at Edinboro that I knew and asked him if they'd give Jakim a look," said Tim Keefer, Donaldson's basketball and football position coach at Oliver. "I told him, Jakim can be your 10th man on the bench. He'll give you everything he has.'

"Finally, Greg Walkovich called me back and said he'd take him."

After a delay with the NCAA Clearinghouse during his freshman year, Donaldson finally joined Edinboro's team.

"It was the fourth or fifth game of the year by the time he was cleared to play," Walkovich said. "I'll never forget, we went on a trip to East Stroudsburg, and we had a great player, Kenny Tate. Kenny got three fouls in about four minutes. We put Jakim in, and he had 10 points and nine rebounds. It was like a coming-out party."

Donaldson went on to become the only player in Edinboro history with 1,000 points (1,335) and 1,000 rebounds (1,100) in a career.

This year in Spain, Donaldson led his team in rebounds per game (9.5) and blocks (57) and was second in scoring (15.1 ppg). Donaldson shot 55.8 percent from the field and 73.6 percent from the free-throw line. He also added 66 assists and 37 steals and recorded 15 double-doubles in 34 games.

While Donaldson is learning a new culture in Spain, giving him "a general respect for more things in life," Walkovich is astounded by the whole scenario.

"I've been a coach for 26 years," he said, "and he's at the top of the pile. There's no one that makes me smile as having been a part of something more than him."

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