Player Spotlight: Donovon Jack
For most Penn State basketball fans, Donovon Jack entered the season as a relative unknown. A 6-9 sophomore forward out of Berks Catholic High School in Reading, PA, Jack only saw the floor for 6.6 minutes per game, during his freshman campaign. While he showed promise in his minutes, there were certainly questions about whether he was ready to join Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor as a starter in the Nittany Lions frontcourt this season.
This past Wednesday, Jack answered many of these questions, after a dominating effort in a win over the Duquesne Dukes, at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Flirting with a triple-double, Jack set his career-high in rebounds with 12, scored nine points, and blocked six shots in the Penn State win.
The Duquesne game was Jack’s second straight dominating performance. Last Saturday, the sophomore forward stuffed the stat sheet against the Marshall Thundering Herd, tallying 18 points on 8-12 shooting from the field, grabbing seven rebounds, and recording seven blocks; just three shy of Calvin Booth’s single-game record.
A volleyball standout in high school, Jack now leads the Nittany Lions with 22 blocked shots; 13 of those coming over the last two games.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know I had seven blocks,” said Jack after the Marshall game. “I was just out there playing hard and doing what coach asked me to do.”
On a Nittany Lions team that has appeared vastly undersized and had trouble protecting the rim at times this season, Jack’s huge games against Duquesne and Marshall are extremely encouraging. With Penn State nearing the end of the non-conference portion of their schedule, the sophomore’s dominant defensive effort could not have come at a better time.
In addition to his efforts on the defensive end, Jack’s huge offensive numbers last Saturday showed what a nice complement he can be to the Penn State frontcourt duo of Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. A skilled shooter, Jack has proven to be quite a weapon for head coach Pat Chambers on offense this season, especially when stretching the floor. When asked about the game against Marshall, Chambers did not seem surprised about the play of his forward.
“Coaches have gut feelings about these things and I thought he was due (for a big game),” Chambers said. “He was shooting the ball well in practice and he knows I have confidence in him.”
Jack’s 18 points last Saturday tied his career-high, a mark he set last month against La Salle at the Bryce Jordan Center. Jack shot 6-9 from the field against the Explorers, including 4-6 from three in the Penn State win.
"I was just trying to feed off the energy of the game and play with my instincts," Jack said after the La Salle game. "Coach always says play with confidence and I got a lot of open looks."
For the sophomore, it seems the key to his season thus far has certainly been the confidence that he has in himself, as well as the confidence that his coach has shown in him. After a few tough games against Ole Miss and Pittsburgh, Jack’s performances against Marshall and Duquesne were excellent signs of resiliency.
“I think he was down on himself, he lost a little confidence in the Ole Miss game,” Chambers said. “He knows that I’ve got his back.”
As a result of some rough performances, Jack’s season averages through 11 games aren’t the flashiest. He is averaging 7.7 ppg and just 3.5 rpg, but he has shown touch when shooting threes this season, his percentage currently sitting at 50% on 9-18 from deep. These numbers certainly will not win Jack any awards, but the impact he has made as the fourth and sometimes even fifth scoring option this season have been staggering.
Described by his teammates as a very hard worker, Jack should only continue to improve throughout the rest of his sophomore campaign.
"Nobody's happier for Donovon than his teammates and our coaching staff," said Chambers earlier this season. "He was here over the summer working on his body and his skill set and now for us offensively you have to deal with him."
A young player only a few weeks removed from his 20th birthday, the future looks bright for Donovon Jack.
Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences, and economics. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)