After injury, ‘Big Mac’ hopes for big finish

By
Friday, March 7, 2008

Damon Huffman ’08 and Mark McAndrew ’08 had the best Senior Weekend they could’ve imagined last week.

In their final home games, the captains led the Bears to a sweep of Princeton and Penn, helped tie Brown’s season-single win record (17) and basked in a standing ovation as they walked off the court. This weekend, they’re looking to break the season win record on the way to getting a possible berth to a postseason tournament.

The team’s third senior and captain, Mark MacDonald ’08, wants all that, too. But “Big Mac,” as his teammates call him, also has a simpler, more personal goal in mind: He wants his regular season to end with him on the court instead of the sideline.

As the Bears streak toward one of their most successful seasons in the program’s history, MacDonald has spent much of it watching from the end of the bench, wearing a tailor-made dark suit on his 6-foot-9 frame instead of an extra-large Brown jersey.

The center has missed nearly all of the Ivy League season since suffering a concussion 37 seconds into the Bears’ Ivy home opener against Yale on Jan. 26. As the team was transitioning to offense, Chris Skrelja ’09 accidentally elbowed him in the head. MacDonald fell face-first and was unconscious for about 10 seconds. He was taken out of the game and diagnosed with what trainers told him was a severe concussion.

MacDonald has missed eight out of the past 10 games because he had been suffering post-concussion symptoms, and he is still not a lock to play the team’s final regular-season games at Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend.

“It’s tough on our team because we’re missing a player who, the first part of the season, was a very integral part of our team,” said Head Coach Craig Robinson. “It’s tougher to watch because I know how badly Mark wants to play.”

MacDonald, who started 15 of Brown’s first 16 games at center, is averaging 6.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per game.

But MacDonald appears to be taking his injury in stride. Though he said he’s “obviously disappointed” that he can’t play, he’s thankful that his injury wasn’t so serious that he couldn’t study at Brown.

He isn’t even devastated that he can’t be involved in the last part of the team’s first winning season in five years, the only one in his time here.

“The team has made it easier on me because we’re winning,” he said. “I’m part of it every day in practice. I still show leadership.”

Robinson said MacDonald hasn’t missed a practice, and he’s been acting as a player-coach, helping some of the younger players.

Still, MacDonald said he gets nervous during games, much more than he did when he was playing, because he can’t control what’s happening.

“The worst was our loss at Cornell” two weeks ago, when the Bears were effectively knocked out of the Ivy League title race, he said.

MacDonald also has had to grapple with the temptation of coming back too soon from such a serious injury. After the concussion, he sat for a week and a half, missing two games. Then he practiced for a day and played at home against Dartmouth and Harvard on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, respectively. He logged about five minutes in each contest.

But at practice on the following Tuesday, he felt what he called a “tension headache,” describing it as a band binding him between his two ears and around the back of his head. The pain didn’t go away the next day, so he told the trainers, who then prohibited him from physical activity indefinitely.

Over the past three weeks, MacDonald has been tempted to push his body and come back. If he went two days without a headache, he would ask if he could start practicing.

“I was always nudging my trainers, but they kept their heads,” MacDonald said.

Finally, MacDonald’s doctors and trainers allowed him to start practicing this Wednesday, and he and Robinson expect MacDonald to play tonight and tomorrow. His return is especially important since Matt Mullery ’10, who had been starting at center for MacDonald, will probably not play this weekend because he injured his knee against Princeton last Friday.

Besides sidelining him for the bulk of the Ivy season, the injury also came at a bad time because MacDonald is looking to play professionally in Europe next year. But he’s optimistic that his recent downtime won’t hurt too much since many teams could use a “skilled big man.”

The Lexington, Mass., native also hopes to be on the court for another reason this weekend: His father has attended all his home games this season, and he will be in the stands at Harvard and Dartmouth to see his son finish his collegiate career.

“My father has always been my biggest fan,” MacDonald said. “It’s going to mean a lot to me” to play this weekend.

Robinson, though, has another vision for how MacDonald will end his playing career.

“It’d be nice if we would win our last regular-season games and set a new record for Brown and maybe get a chance to win a postseason game or two,” Robinson said.

The Bears, who will finish league play in second place, are hoping to improve on their 17-9 overall record this weekend and earn an invitation to either the National Invitational Tournament or the new, 16-team College Basketball Invitational.