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Hall of fame coach, player to have jersey retired at LBSU

Despite accomplishments in the NBA, overseas and WNBA, LBSU recognizes McDonald as a mentor for students, colleagues say

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Photo courtesy Long Beach State University
Glenn McDonald, a former Long Beach State University men’s basketball athlete (pictured here in this undated photo from the ‘70s) and women’s basketball coach who retired in September from the college after 35 years, will have his No. 20 jersey retired during halftime of the 49ers men’s homecoming game against Menlo College Nov. 10.

When Long Beach State University’s (LBSU) athletic director, Andy Fee, gave Glenn McDonald a call about a month ago to discuss routine matters regarding the college’s athletics, one of the last things McDonald said he expected was a suggestion to have his No. 20 jersey retired in the LBSU rafters.

While McDonald isn’t the type of person to boast his accomplishments, his resume speaks for itself: a standout LBSU men’s basketball athlete from 1971 to 1974; a 1976 NBA Champion with the Boston Celtics; a Europa Cup champion with Sweden; a player and coach with the Philippines men’s basketball team; the head coach for the LBSU women’s basketball team from 1991 to 1995; an assistant coach with the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, with whom he helped guide to back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002; 1988 LBSU hall-of-fame inductee; and 35 years influencing students at LBSU.

McDonald will have his jersey retired Nov. 10 during the men’s basketball homecoming game against Menlo College at the college’s Walter Pyramid. His No. 20 jersey will join the likes of Ed Ratleff, Lucious Harris and Bryon Russell, all nestled in the rafters of the Pyramid.

“It’s definitely an honor for your jersey to be retired,” McDonald told the Signal Tribune Nov. 5. “And the fact that they talked about me not just as a basketball player, but with me being on the campus for so long and the contact I’ve had with so many students and students in general. I’ve been there 30 years on campus, so I love the fact that I’m getting honored as a basketball player, but I even more enjoy that they are looking at me as a human being and what I’ve done for the students.”

•••

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Glenn McDonald, pictured here after his interview with the Signal Tribune

In his three decades with LBSU, McDonald’s biggest accomplishment is resonating with his students, Ratleff told the Signal Tribune Nov. 6. Ratleff, whose No. 42 jersey hangs in the Pyramid seemingly waiting for his former teammate and fellow coach’s uniform to join it, said McDonald had a talent to bring out the best from his players.

“The players seemed to gravitate toward him,” he said in a phone interview. “They like him. He gets a lot of respect. […] Some of the players that he coached back in the day, they still go to his house, they still call him, everything. It’s amazing the wonderful man that he is and the great things that he does for the university and the people around there.”

Before coaching and teaching intramurals, McDonald joined LBSU in 1971 via basketball scholarship.

A young boy from Kewanee, Illinois, McDonald’s first experiences with basketball began on the playground, where the gravel served as a precursor for the career that was yet to come. Although developing into his own as a player as a 12 year old, McDonald still did not have experience playing with an organized team.

When one day his mother returned from California after visiting her sister-in-law, she announced to McDonald and his three sisters that they were moving to the Golden State.

“I didn’t want to leave,” he said. “So, I’m looking at the TV, and the Watts riots are going on. ‘You’re telling me we’re moving there?’ I said, ‘I’m not moving there.’ And she said, ‘No, you’re moving there, because you’re the man of the house, and I need you there with me.’ That was a first for me, and I had just started playing sports. I was playing basketball, football […] and my mother loved that I played sports, so my punishment to her for moving to California was that I wasn’t going to play sports. So, I would just play on the playgrounds. I wouldn’t get with organized teams.”

The punishment didn’t last long. As he was primed to enter Jefferson High School as a freshman, one of the local players on the playground inquired if McDonald would be trying out for basketball at the school. During that time at Jefferson, teams were organized into A, B and C squads, the latter reserved for lower-level players.

Courtesy Long Beach State University
Glenn McDonald, donning the soon-to-be-retired No. 20, with Long Beach State University in the 1970s

“I said, ‘Nope, not trying out for no team,’” McDonald recounted. “[…] And he told me, ‘You probably wouldn’t make the team, anyway.’ So, all that night I was thinking, ‘This guy is telling me I can’t make the team?’ And he’s telling me I can’t even make the C team. All I thought about was what he said.”

Playground banter quickly turned into motivation, as McDonald went straight for basketball try-outs when he joined Jefferson High School, ultimately making the A team.

As a starter for the men’s basketball team throughout high school, colleges, such as institutions from Maryland and Kansas, began recruiting McDonald. Among them was Long Beach State.

Opting to join what is now his alma mater, McDonald, the first in his family to attend college, said, at the time, he had no idea that being a “student athlete” meant honoring the first part of the term– being a student. He said he thought college athletes simply played their sport and called it a day.

Courtesy Long Beach State University
Glenn McDonald during his time with Long Beach State University in the 1970s

“My coach said, ‘Wait a minute– you have to go to college when you go to college. You have to go to school.’ He sat down with me, and we had a long discussion about that,” McDonald said. “[…] Finally I realized what was going on and found out that I had to get my butt in gear before this whole thing blows up, and I’m not going to go any place.”

During his LBSU stint from 1971 to 1974, McDonald initially didn’t get much playing time, sometimes “not going in at all or only during the last two minutes of the game.”

Under head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the defensive-minded LBSU men’s basketball team one game allowed an opposing player to single-handedly drop about 36 points on the team, suffering a crushing loss. On the bus ride home, one of the players told Tarkanian, who was frustrated at the 49ers’s lack of defense, that, “Well, Glenn can guard that guy.”

The next time the two teams met for a rematch, McDonald kept that same star player down to single figures, finishing with six points that contest.

“So, that‘s where the playing time became more excessive,” he said. “I almost never came out of games because I would always be in there and because they needed me because of my defense. I was considered one of the top defensive players of the nation at the time.”

Decades later, McDonald brought his defensive mindset to the LBSU women’s basketball team from 1991 to 1995 as head coach.

From coaching, McDonald began teaching intramural sports, such as basketball and tennis. It was something that he continued to do until his retirement this past September.

Echoing Ratleff’s statements, Roscoe Pondexter, a former teammate of McDonald’s on the ‘70s LBSU teams, told the Signal Tribune Nov. 6 that, aside from doing all the “dirty work” as a player with his athletic ability, his contributions to young folks is what defines him as a man.

“He’s an outstanding man with character and a love for his community and people,” Pondexter said. “He cares about how he makes people feel. I think the world of him. I love Glenn McDonald. […] He had a lot of options, but the option he made was to give back to young people.”

McDonald said that he developed close bonds with college students over the years.

Courtesy Long Beach State University
After his tenure in the NBA and playing and coaching overseas in Sweden and the Philippines, Glenn McDonald (left) coached the Long Beach State University women’s basketball team from 1991 to 1995. Later, McDonald served as assistant coach with the Los Angeles Sparks in the early 2000s, when the team won back-to-back championships in the WNBA.

“I talk to them about life in general, and it’s amazing how so many of these kids, they have so many problems that no one knows about, because they mask it as much as they can,” McDonald said. “You start talking to them, and they tell you. There were some kids that were homeless, but they made it through because they want to get their education. There were some families that were just broken up, and one weekend they’re here, and the other weekend they’re over there. So, my main thing was to just know the kids, talk to them, share experiences I’ve had, because I was in a broken home. My father was gone. I didn’t even meet my real father until I was 50 years old. It’s just one of those things that you want them to understand that you can get through whatever you have to get through. You just have to go after it.”

•••

McDonald is perhaps remembered nationally as one of the heroes of the 1976 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns.

During Game 5 of the series, the contest went into triple overtime. When forward Paul Silas fouled out of the game, McDonald was sure that it was his teammate’s turn to go in.

“Then all of a sudden [coach] says, ‘Mac!’ Then with no hesitation, I was ready to go.” McDonald said.

The seldom-played McDonald scored six crucial points in the period to propel the Celtics to victory. Boston would go on to win Game 6 of the NBA Finals and become champion.

Courtesy Glenn McDonald
Glenn McDonald (center), a Long Beach State University alum who spent 35 years at the college as an athlete and coach, played two seasons in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, with whom he won the 1976 NBA Championship, and a few games with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 1970s.

“It didn’t hit me until I got home that night what I had actually done during that game and how critical it was during that game,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, just thinking about what happened.

To this day, whether it be during the NBA playoffs or the finals, clips of McDonald’s moment are played in succession with other significant performances in NBA history.

But McDonald initially didn’t take much interest in the NBA. Although excited, McDonald said he expressed some indifference when he received the call that he was drafted as first-round pick to the Boston Celtics, because he was busy moving to a different house.

Adjusting to NBA play required McDonald to get stronger and go beyond his thin frame of 6’6, 190 pounds. He said he learned the value of leveraging his body on his opponent for good defensive posture and being aggressive.

Mentally, McDonald said there are athletes who could pick apart those who were stronger and faster through the sheer understanding of the game of basketball.

“You think you can dominate a person because they’re not as athletic as you are, but they can take you apart, because they can think the game,” he said. “That was it for me. I got there and learned how to truly think the game of basketball.”

Under the mentorship of the likes of John Havlicek, Jojo White and Don Nelson, McDonald made it through a couple of years in the NBA’s 82-game seasons.

“People don’t understand how 82 games can wear you down, even if you don’t play very much,” he said. “You still have practice every day. You still do those types of things […]. Fortunately, we did do a good job of ‘team, team’ when I was in college. So, that wasn’t a big issue, making sure that this was a team effort.”

McDonald said that part of the Celtic mindset meant emphasizing “team” instead of “me.”

“When I got there, and I saw the banners and the camaraderie the team had, you just kind of fit in with it,” he said. “It’s really, really true that people say, ‘That guy’s not a Celtic. He’s on the team, but he’s not a Celtic.’ There’s a certain attitude that you have to have to be a Celtic, and the first one is playing as a team and not as an individual. You’re not looking for the individual accolades. As a team, you win together, lose together. If you’re good, it’s going to happen for you.”

When McDonald concluded his brief tenure in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1977, he had moved overseas with his wife, Renee, to play in Sweden, the then Europa Cup champions, and eventually play and coach in the Philippines. He stayed in the Philippines for six years before returning to the United States in the ‘80s to finish his LBSU education.

McDonald said his initial view of the Philippines was that of an underdeveloped place, such as” grass huts or bungalows.”

“First of all, people in the United States, I think it’s getting better, but you don’t really focus on other things from other countries,” he said. “[…] I get over there– I was right in the Manila area– and I felt like I was in Beverly Hills or some place. It was just unbelievable. It was just something I never thought it would look like. So, that was the first thing. And then the other thing was how the people were so warm and welcoming. I don’t know if it was because they found out I was a basketball player or what, but from my experience and other people who have gone to the Philippines and Asia in general, the people there are just very nice. That was something that was good for me.”

As a player and coach, McDonald had access to personal caretakers, a maid and a driver– things he knew wouldn’t last forever.

“It’s just a respectful culture,” he concluded.

•••

Ratleff said to get a good indication of the type of person McDonald is, all people would have to do is see his influence first-hand during the jersey-retirement ceremony Nov. 10.

“If you go out there for the ceremony, you’re going to see how many people are out there for him,” he said. “That’s going to explain it right there. You will see the people for him there and how much ovation he gets. […] I’m proud of him.”

In phone interviews this week, Kevin Cutler, NBA referee and Long Beach State alum, and Cindy Masner, the college’s senior-associate athletics director, acknowledged the significant presence McDonald has had on the school.

“We call him ‘papi,'” Cutler said. “Glenn has been there for the birth of every last one of my kids and the death of one of my kids. My children call him ‘papi.’ He’s the godfather of my children.”

Cutler said he regularly ate and slept at McDonald and Renee’s home, a place where he could relax and see the two as parental figures.

“They used to have a couch, and it was in their family room at the time, that extended, and it was like going to a shrink,” he said. “I sat on the couch, and you’d talk to Glenn or with his wife, Renee. I call her ‘ma.'”

Masner, who has known McDonald for more than 20 years, said he really has a talent of “building others up.”

“Student athletes, when they would come here, would go to him for guidance,” she said. “Some of our men’s basketball players, when he was coaching women, would go and talk to him when they needed to. I’ve gone to him and told him, ‘Hey, can you talk to this student for me?’ Those kinds of things.”

She added, “All of our student athletes may not talk to him a ton, but they are very close to him. And if they needed anything, they know Glenn is always there.”

McDonald said being part of LBSU has given him the opportunity to influence many young lives, a chance he never envisioned having when he first started playing basketball as a youngster himself.

“You just never know what’s going to be there for you,” McDonald said. “They were looking for more than just a basketball player to retire the jersey. With me being around the university for so long, and fortunately touching so many people, that, aside from just the basketball, they saw me as a human being, as a humanitarian. We want to put this guy in. I represent a whole lot of guys with that No. 20, but it just so happens that my number and my name will be on the back of that jersey when it goes up.”

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Hall of fame coach, player to have jersey retired at LBSU