3 September 2019
That is how UCCS head men’s basketball coach Jeff Culver described his reaction to the news that UCCS 2019 graduate Ian MacDonald has committed to playing professional basketball in the United Kingdom.
MacDonald is joining the Newcastle University Basketball Club, a part of the United Kingdom’s National Basketball League (NBL) Division II, which is overseen by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the international governing body for professional basketball.
“We’re really excited for Ian, and excited for him to continue his basketball career,” said Culver.
During four years at UCCS, MacDonald played in 26 games, with 11 starts. Against New Mexico Highlands University on Feb. 16 — the final home game of the Mountain Lions’ regular season — he scored a career high 17 points. Now, he will play professionally while working on his Master’s degree in Communications and Business Management at Newcastle University.
MacDonald is not the first UCCS graduate to become a professional basketball player. Last season, Derek White (who transferred to CU Boulder in 2016) made headlines as he competed with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA championship. These two are joined by five others competing overseas in places such as Romania, Italy, Germany, Poland and Switzerland.
“It’s been pretty cool to have these guys not only get a great degree from UCCS, but then be able to continue their basketball playing careers while they’re able to travel the world and have some pretty cool experiences,” Culver said.
Culver and his assistant, Alex Snyder, both came to UCCS in 2012, and have watched these seven successful alumni through their competitive careers, and Culver said it has been “pretty cool to be a part of.”
Culver also agreed that seeing as many as seven graduates in three years reach the professional level seems unusual for a Division II university like UCCS.
“I feel like you get that a lot, where a lot of folks feel like there’s a stark contrast between Division I and Division II,” said Culver. “Reality is that that line between Division I and Division II is much more blurred.”
According to Culver, there are players at UCCS who are capable of playing at a higher level but chose UCCS based on other factors.
“A lot of times, players will go to the best fit for them academically, athletically, social, location. There’s a lot of different factors that go into it,” Culver said, adding that this mix of factors often lead to Division I-caliber players playing at Division II schools on account of the school itself just being the right fit.
The success of MacDonald and White and the others, Culver said, is also a testament to the players’ hard work, dedication and perseverance, as well as a testament to the strength of the basketball program.
“We’ve tried to build this program to a high level, to be competitive with lower-level Division I schools,” Culver said. “I feel like we’ve done that in different ways, so it’s no surprise to us that we’ve got these guys who are graduating and getting these opportunities. But we certainly understand that, from the outside looking in, it’s not the norm.”