Jaylin McDonald could’ve played more elsewhere. He had multiple Division II offers. He didn’t need to be a walk on.
But he loved Ohio University too much. He still wanted to play basketball, but he was fine walking on as long as it meant he resided in Athens.
“I didn’t wanna be at a school I didn’t wanna go to,” McDonald said. “I didn’t wanna play just because.”
McDonald has shy tendencies. He has to get comfortable with you in order to show his personality. It takes time.
“When people he doesn’t know come around, he clams up a little bit,” coach Saul Phillips said.
The Ohio locker room was different. McDonald found the heart of his comfort zone.
Phillips said McDonald acclimated to his new teammates quickly after joining the roster in 2015. Now, he’s one of the leading bench celebrators.
For 3-pointers, he likes to press his thumb and index finger together and hold them up to his eyes, symbolizing 3-point goggles. He loves the J.R. Smith air guitar routine.
He flexes after every Ohio slam dunk. If an opposing player has the NBA logo on their socks, they hear it from the bench about how he’s taking the game too seriously. If the opposing player has a tattoo, the bench assumes it was drawn in a basement.
McDonald is always participating in the fun, and that energy makes a difference.
“It’s infectious,” Phillips said. “If it’s playing at Maryland or it’s a Tuesday night in Ypsilanti and there’s not many people in the gym, (the bench guys) are gonna have the same energy and effort.”
When Ohio played Akron on the road last season, the barbs from the bench made a tangible difference on the scoreboard. Akron guard Jimond Ivey stood in front of the Ohio bench to inbound the ball.
McDonald talked trash, then the rest of the bench talked trash. Then some of the on court players talked trash. Ivey turned around to respond and received a technical foul.
While McDonald doesn’t get to make contributions to the scoreboard often, he’s also not an ornament. He has an athletic 6-foot-6-inch frame, more athletic than most walk ons, he says.
He can simulate opposing players better than the typical walk on.
“I’m making everybody else better,” McDonald said. “I work hard in practice.”
He works hard despite knowing his minutes will be limited. He knew the deal when he decided to come to Athens.
He traded minutes for the experience. And even though he doesn’t get a lot of playing time, he still gets his airtime.
McDonald lives for the moments when the ESPN cameras point toward the bench. Basketball still helps him shine.
“We got a little bit of a spotlight on us,” McDonald said. “It’s awesome to represent the school and show that we’ve got a lot of energy and bring good vibes.”