By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — So if you were a recently crowned back-to-back state champion and considered one of the best point guards in Georgia, how would you be spending your time during the aftermath?
Would you be looking at highlights of last Thursday’s game, replaying the best moments over and over again?
How about trying sitting around counting all of the calls and letters you received from college coaches who may have slept on your recruitment early on? Or thinking about how you’re going to put on a show during your upcoming all-star games.
Or maybe you’d just be laying in the bed with your hands in the air, trying to envision how that second championship ring will look on your finger.
Austin Donaldson may have been doing all of the above in the last five days since winning a second straight Class AAAA crown. But on Monday he was doing something he feels is even more meaningful.
He was praying.
Oh, and working on his homework — a senior portfolio needed to graduate.
But the first activity was Donaldson in rare form. He was doing something that he says has become as much a part of his life as trying to dissect and penetrate zone defenses.
Donaldson spent time Monday evening at First Baptist Jonesboro’s ROC (Recreation Outreach Center) Basketball outreach. He was called upon by church member and owner of the Jonesboro Chick-Fil-A Dwarf House Joe Wilburn to come and provide an opening prayer before over 300 kids and adults in the church’s celebration night to culminate its winter basketball season.
And even with all that he’s got going on, Donaldson couldn’t help but to push pause and say yes.
“When Mr. Wilburn asked me, it was such an honor,” Donaldson said. “He does a lot for us. It was right after my all-star game practice, so I had to rush over there and do it. I stayed for a little while after the prayer, and then I came home to work on this portfolio.”
That little piece of homework is one of the Chattanooga signee’s last steps before graduating and beginning his college hoops career. The practice was part of the preparation for Wednesday’s Clayton County All-Star basketball game hosted by Lovejoy High School.
And then there’s that little deal in Savannah in a couple of weeks called the GACA North vs. South All-Star Basketball Showcase that he and Lady Cardinals baller Michaelle Smith will be playing in.
In short, Donaldson had plenty of meaningful basketball things to occupy his time, not to mention the classroom stuff. So why the rush? Why go out of your way to get to the church and pray?
Donaldson said it was an obligation — but not one forced on him out of duty. Rather, one that he had to oblige just out of old fashioned gratitude. Gratitude to Wilburn indeed, but moreover, gratitude to God.
“I felt like I just had no choice but to do it,” he said. “God has given me the talent and the blessings to be able to do what I’ve done on the basketball court, and this was just a way for me to give back to God and the community. What they’ve done for us means a lot.”
It meant a lot to the kids as well. In fact, the impact of Donaldson’s presence had on the church league group even caught him by surprise.
“I saw the little kids, and how excited they were about me speaking and praying,” he said. “And even the adults were excited. One guy came up and gave me a business card and said if I ever needed anything, just to talk to him. I didn’t know it meant that much for me to be there.”
Yes, Mr. Donaldson, it did. As it has been said, this Jonesboro hoops success is bigger than just a school full of bluechip basketball players flexing their muscles and showing their dominance.
This is a win for the city of Jonesboro, the entire Clayton County area. Heck, throw in the whole south side. I’ve gotten emails and messages from people as far as Fayette and Spalding county saluting the Cardinals and their achievements.
But I salute Donaldson, personally — not just for the work he does on the court, or even the work he’s doing to be a community presence.
I salute him for the work he’s allowing God to do in his heart.
“I was always raised up to have good morals and to do right, and read your Bible, pray and try to live holy,” he said. “Not necessarily in church either. My parents have always instilled that in me and tried to keep me as humble as I can be.”
Donaldson and his family are members of Higher Living Church in Jonesboro, led by Pastor Andre Landers. He calls it just one of the influences that helps him to be “as rightful and holy as I can.”
He’s not a Bible thumper or a scripture quoting machine, but he’s found a few places in God’s Word that not only fit his spiritual life, but empowers his athletic career as well.
“I know there’s that one verse that says that there is no greater love than for God to lay down his life for his friends,” said Donaldson, loosely quoting John 15:13. “That’s one that I use a lot when talking to our team about just being there for each other.”
He credits his, and the team’s involvement with the South Metro Atlanta chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in providing them a spiritual base that he said gave the team the poise to succeed starting last year, just before their first championship run.
“God puts people in your life for a reason,” he said. “Without Mr. Wilburn and Mr. (Mike) Roby leading us through, we wouldn’t have been as humble and as poised as we are. I told Coach Maehlman earlier in the season, as long as I’m not nervous (in close games), you shouldn’t be nervous. I think he sees what I meant now.”
Donaldson said he also has another quote he likes to live by
“The most important days in your life are the day that you’re born, and the day you find the reason why,” he recites.
“I don’t think that’s in the Bible,” he added. “But it’s really fitting where I am in life.”
I’d say he’s found the essence of what Christians call “The Great Commission.” It’s the passage of Scripture that implores believers to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ every where they go. The idea is to make being an impactful lover of God something that flows out of every aspect of your daily life.
And since Donaldson has begun to see how his basketball talent can intertwine with his relationship with God to make an impact on the lives of young athletes who, perhaps couldn’t be as easily reached by others, I’d say he’s off to a fast start of embodying his favorite quotes.
“God’s got a purpose for everything,” he said. “He helps in good and bad times. He plays a role in us being state champions and in me trying to live up to holiness. He means everything to me in all those ways.”