Shane McDonald’s long and fruitful playing career took him to eight different teams across four different countries.
As he begins the transition into coaching with the Maribynong Sports Academy and as an assistant coach of the Victorian under-20 team, McDonald reflected upon the unique array of experiences and life lessons he learnt throughout his playing career.
It all started growing up in Kaniva, where McDonald always had a ball in-hand and played every sport he could.
“I played cricket, tennis, basketball, Australian rules footy, table tennis, squash,” he said.
“Growing up in a small town of 800 people, I had a really good opportunity to play a bunch of different sports, whereas I think that’s a little bit harder in the city.”
McDonald’s family moved to Horsham when he was eleven, and it was with the Horsham Hornets and the teaching of the legendary Owen Hughan that he developed his passion for basketball.
“It was an awesome opportunity coming from the country to play men’s basketball at such a young age. It really accelerated my development,” he said.
“Owen is incredible – every basketball circle I find myself in around the country, they all know of Owen and his unbelievable ability to develop young talent and teach the game the right way. It’s really fortunate for Horsham to have such a great coach.”
McDonald was a clearly talented junior, playing in state teams and making All-Australian squads. He was also a key part of a dominant Hornets team that won four consecutive titles between 2000 – 2004.
As he moved towards a senior career, he initially planned on staying in Australia as a development player with an NBL team.
But the league was going through a tumultuous period, and the club McDonald intended to sign with folded midway through his final year of high-school.
Instead, McDonald ventured to the United States to play college basketball for Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” he said. “As a 19-20 year old boy coming from the country, to live on the other side of the world and to fend for yourself was a great life experience.”
While he developed as a person, McDonald disliked the ruthless nature of college sport in America, a culture vastly different to what he had grown up with.
“Basketball wise it wasn’t awesome,” he said. “It’s a bit of a meat market. They almost forget about you along the way.
“I didn’t think about it much at the time, but now that I do a bit of coaching myself, the coach wasn’t helpful – he was a big ranter and raver and not a great teacher of the game.
“I think it’s pretty common over there to be very authoritarian, but it was a very different philosophy to what I was brought up with with Owen.
“At the time it was hard to see some positives from it. But I look back on it now as a coach and I think that’s exactly the opposite of the type of coach I want to be. It probably helped me understand that.”
McDonald returned to Australia after the academic year and played a brief stint with Albury-Wodonga in the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL).
The next year he moved to Melbourne to study PE teaching, and started playing for the Nunawading Spectres in the SEABL, the same team Owen Hughan had played and coached at decades earlier.
Hughan was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Nunawading and McDonald would go on to become a legend there in his own right, growing an affiliation with the Spectres and always returning there after his various professional stints.
But first, he moved to achieve his dream of playing in the NBL.
After a spectacular second season with the Spectres in 2007, McDonald impressed recruiters from the newly formed NBL side the Singapore Slingers and earned a contract for the 2007-08 season.
“It was just an awesome experience,” he said.
“It was a really fun year. I was 21 when I first got there and we had seven other rookies and one new American in the team, so we had eight guys who had never played in the NBL before.
“It really shaped me as a person and gave me an excellent opportunity to play a lot and experience basketball at that really high level.”
McDonald had a great year with the side, playing in 29 of their 30 games and getting the chance to start in multiple matches.
But due to financial trouble and the impact of travel, the Slingers left the NBL after just one season and moved to the South East Asian Basketball Association.
McDonald remained at the team for six months before an opportunity arose to return to Australia and the NBL with the Perth Wildcats.
McDonald played the second half of the season there, but it was fortuitously meeting his wife that was the highlight of his time in Perth.
“There’s so many sliding doors moments in life,” he said. “There’s times when I look back and think, ‘what if that never happened?’
“There was a time where that Perth opportunity may not have come – I wouldn’t have met my wife, and we have a son now.
“There’s just all these little sliding door moments I’ve had that can really change the direction of your life.
“That’s what has been so great about basketball; it’s allowed me to travel and experience so much.”
McDonald had one more stint in the NBL a few years later as a 30-year-old, playing a season with the New Zealand Breakers in 2015-16.
But in between his stints in the NBL, there was always the stability of Nunawading for McDonald to return to, a place he called his “base”.
“I always wanted to come back to Melbourne whenever I could, to keep chipping away at my teaching degree,” he said.
“I loved everything about the club. It reminded me a lot of Horsham in a way, and I knew Owen had his first coaching job there.
“Early in my time there we didn’t have a lot of success, so it sort of became a motivating factor for me to try and bring a club that’s had so much rich history and success to bring a little bit of that back again.”
McDonald led the side to success in 2011, securing their first championship since 1995 and winning the MVP in the championship game.
He stayed at the club as he began working at Maribynong College, winning the league MVP in 2013. He returned once more after his time in New Zealand and became the SEABL’s all-time assist leader last year.
Reflecting upon his career, McDonald was incredibly grateful for the opportunities afforded to him.
“I feel very lucky. None of that would have come if I didn’t have the coaching and the support of my parents,” he said.
“It’s not until you get a bit older and you reflect on it you think, gee, I was really in the right place at the right time and I had a really fortunate upbringing. I don’t take that for granted.”