Jakim Donaldson poses with one of many awards he’s won as part of the LEB Gold Spanish basketball league. (Photo courtesy photobasket.com)
The rain in Spain falls mainly in the paint — at least, it does when Jakim Donaldson has the ball.
The 6-foot-8 center and forward for the Ciudad de La Laguna Canarias, of the LEB Gold basketball league in Spain, pours down field goals, scoring on 60 percent of his attempts. The Northside native, once a star at Oliver, also currently leads his team in points per game with 17.3, which ranks second in the league.
And just earlier this month, Donaldson was named MVP for the league’s second division — the second year in a row he has received the honor.
When asked how he improved from 10th overall in points per game last season to second this season, Donaldson said he’s playing more aggressively and trying to recreate in games what he does in practice. He’s followed the same offseason training for the past two years and plans to do it again this year.
“I work out with Eddie Benton, the women’s basketball coach at La Roche [in the off-season],” Donaldson said. “He’s a former point guard, so he helps me out with my perimeter game.”
Donaldson does more than score points though; he’s also tied for third overall in blocks per game and leads the league in rebounds with eleven per game.
According to Brezopro, a Spanish sports management and consulting agency, Donaldson possesses outstanding defensive capabilities, intimidation and rebounding instincts, which helps explain why he’s been the league leader in rebounds three consecutive seasons.
“I strive for consistency and have a strong work ethic. I try not to be complacent or get too high or too low. I just believe in myself and what I can do,” Donaldson said.
After an illustrious playing career at Edinboro University, Donaldson’s desire to play pro basketball landed him overseas when he signed a contract with the LEB club in Sabadell outside of Barcelona.
He had gotten a taste of European basketball by playing exhibition games against pro teams in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands with Division I and II All-Star teams, and he relished the opportunity to make good money playing basketball right out of school.
His opportunity didn’t last in Sabadell, however, because he was cut after two weeks. Donaldson tried out for a number of teams in Turkey, but still wasn’t able to make the cut.
He maintained belief in himself, though, and eventually landed with the Barreirense club in Portugal, where he had an All-Star campaign that caught the attention of La Laguna in Spain.
Donaldson’s impressive play has also caught the attention of many Spanish basketball fans: “Big cities in Spain like Barcelona and Madrid are a lot like the U.S. People will stop you in the streets to talk to you, but there’s no paparazzi that follows you around.”
Donaldson says his Spanish is improving thanks to such encounters on the street and other general interactions, but his coaches and teammates primarily communicate in English on the court.
Away from the court, Donaldson lives in Tenerife in the Canary Islands for ten months out of the year. He says he enjoys the chance to get away and see different parts of the world: “I like to broaden my horizons, because the world is bigger than Pittsburgh, bigger than the United States. There’s more to it than that.”
Some of his American fans occasionally make the trip across the pond to see him play live, but games are also broadcast on www.febtv.com.
Donaldson still lives in Pittsburgh during the offseason. When not training, he enjoys spending time with family and friends and volunteering with the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Group, a community organization that promotes positive activities for Pittsburgh youth. The group was founded by his father, Jay Donaldson.
Though Pittsburgh is home to professional football, baseball and hockey franchises, Donaldson believes there is room for basketball in the city too. “There are lots of different leagues in the city with talented young players, and even though we’re not far from Cleveland, I’d love to see an NBA franchise move in.”
Quite a talented young player himself, Donaldson is set to have his best statistical year yet with La Laguna, but there’s one stat column that remains conspicuously blank.
Donaldson actually laughed a bit when asked about his lack of three-point attempts: “We have so many shooters, so I stick to what I do well. I focus on the mid-range game, penetrate and get to the line, and do what I can to help my team.”
If Donaldson continues to stick with what he does well, opponents may have to start carrying umbrellas.