Tre Donaldson's sophomore surge should have come as no surprise
The Auburn PG might be the best second-year player in the SEC right now. And the story of how he got there is one of work, hard work.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Auburn was trailing with less than 10 minutes to play, and the shot clock was winding down rather quickly on the Tigers’ offense when the ball swung back to Tre Donaldson on the left wing.
Donaldson sized up his man with a between-the-legs dribble, then delivered a quick in-and-out move with his favored right hand. The move threw the defender off-balance, creating a natural lane for Donaldson to drive toward the basket.
At the high post, another Texas A&M defender dropped down to protect against the drive. Donaldson’s original defender was close behind him, too. The shot clock was now down to just a few ticks, but Donaldson didn’t panic.
In one smooth motion, Donaldson planted his left foot, spun away from both defenders and rose up for a fading turnaround jumper. It was a tough shot, especially for an Auburn offense that was having a hard time finding anything consistent against an aggressive and physical Texas A&M defense.
The ball followed a perfect arc and went straight through the net. Tie game.
The decision to take that shot — and the ability to make it — called to mind a quote Donaldson gave about his season so far late last month:
“Confident as ever,” Donaldson said.
On the next possession, the Tigers would start what would turn into a critical 8-0 run. Donaldson would assist on both baskets of that run — one to Johni Broome, and the other to Jaylin Williams.
Donaldson would later have the biggest assist of the night, reading the aggressive Texas A&M coverage and dishing the ball to an open Williams for a dagger 3-pointer with less than a minute to go in regulation.
At the end of Auburn’s grind-it-out 66-55 win over Texas A&M, Donaldson had only gone 1-5 from the field and committed three turnovers. But he also had six assists, with five of them coming in the second half, and was a team-high +22 in plus/minus.
And his play caught the eye of Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams, who clearly did plenty of homework on the sophomore point guard.
“No. 1 (Aden Holloway) is good, but No. 3 (Donaldson), you could argue, is maybe the most improved freshman-to-sophomore perimeter (player) that I’ve studied thus far in the league,” Williams said Tuesday night. “He’s really leaned out. I bet he’s lost 7 to 8% body fat. Strength coach needs a raise.
“I think he’s much more comfortable, playing with leverage. … I think No. 3’s usage rate is 28% off the bench. That’s a really high number.”
Donaldson isn’t the starting point guard for the Tigers this season. But that hasn’t stopped him from making a tremendous impact in what is almost an even timeshare with Holloway.
“(Donaldson) worked really hard to put himself in a position where he and Aden, a McDonald’s All-American and one of the best freshman point guards in the country, are basically sharing time,” Bruce Pearl said Thursday. “There was nobody that helped teach Aden his position more than Tre, while, at the same, trying to compete with Aden for playing time.
“I think Tre’s attitude, just his leadership, I honestly think it’s something that God’s blessed. Give God a chance to bless you by doing the right things. That’s what Tre has done.”
Unlike many backup point guards, Donaldson plays with aggressiveness and command, like he’s always running the show.