@Colette Lewis 2012--
With all his family connections to UCLA, that Mackenzie McDonald even considered another university when he began the college recruiting process is something of a surprise.
Yet the 17-year-old from Piedmont, California looked at both Stanford University and the University of Southern California before deciding last week to keep the family tradition. Next month he will sign a National Letter of Intent to play for the UCLA Bruins.
“I’ve had a lot of history with UCLA, and that meant a lot to me,” said McDonald, a blue chip prospect who has been ranked among the top three in the Tennis Recruiting Network’s 2013 recruiting class the past four years.
“My dad went there, my grandpa went there, my uncle went there, my sister’s going there, my girlfriend’s there right now on the tennis team. I’ve known the coach [Billy Martin] for a while, and I’ve known his son, been friends with him for almost ten years now. I know a lot of guys on the team, they’re all California guys, great guys and great teammates.”
McDonald took an unofficial visit to USC and was impressed with the facilities and program, but the pull to Westwood was too strong.
“It liked USC, it was beautiful and everything was great, but I just didn’t know the people as well. I just feel at home at UCLA. I know the area so well.”
It's not only the comfort level he feels at UCLA that's important to McDonald--he also has his eye on a national title.
“I just want to be where the best players are,” said McDonald, who has occasionally hit with Pete Sampras when traveling to the area from his Northern California home.
“Obviously, to win a championship would be a dream. UCLA is a really young team, and I think we’ll be good. I look at UCLA and realize there’s a lot of people in the area, a lot of coaches I know, a lot of pros. There are a lot of connections there and the quality is really good.”
One of the family connections at UCLA is McDonald’s older sister Dana, who is a sophomore on the gymnastics team.
“My sister is a terrific gymnast, and we both split up when we were young, doing our own sports and our own thing, so I think UCLA will reunite us.”
One thing the siblings shared as they went about pursuing their very different sports was a reverence for legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
“They kind of grew up with the John Wooden philosophy, the pyramid of success,” said Mike McDonald, Dana and Mackenzie’s father. “Mackie’s gotten to meet John Wooden multiple times, talk to him. It’s been really influential from a family perspective. It’s something I always taught them, but it’s Mackie’s choice where he wanted to go. His goal is to be a professional tennis player, and he feels it gives him the best chance to do that.”
McDonald is beginning his second year of online schooling through K12, after attending Piedmont High School for two years. Citing math as his favorite subject, McDonald intends to study business and economics at UCLA.
|McDonald considers his Little Mo 11s title one of the highlights of his stellar junior career|
(photo courtesy of McDonald family)
Although the Bay Area is not the tennis hotbed that Southern California is, McDonald has had the benefit of working with former ATP Top 10 player Wayne Ferreira and the Claremont Hotel’s Director of Tennis Rosie Bareis.
“Rosie was my first coach when I started playing at age 3, and I picked up Wayne when I was 11 years old,” said McDonald.
“They work really well together, they complement each other as they coach me. Rosie feeds me a lot of balls, and she’s also technical, just like Wayne. She provides me so much, taking me places, providing me courts, balls, she calls people to get hits, whatever I need, fitness-wise, she’ll help me with anything. She’s really there for me and she’s been a big part of my life.”
“Wayne is teaching me the game, how to play points, how to kind of put all the pieces together,” McDonald continued. “He also hits with me a lot, gives me lessons. They are actually starting up an academy, with younger kids, so I see both of them every day, at Claremont. I was there ten hours today.”
Last Saturday McDonald wasn’t at Claremont, as he started early with his SAT exam, played in challenger qualifying, then finished the day as a college sports spectator.
“I woke up at 6:30, got to the SAT place, started at 8, finished at 1:30, got in the car, drove to Tiburon, played a match, then after that I went to the UCLA-Cal football game. It was a busy day,” McDonald said.
McDonald, currently No. 17 in the ITF junior rankings, is planning to play the junior slams in 2013, while also pursuing his first ATP point.
“I’m starting (at UCLA) next fall, so I have a whole year, and I really want to focus on playing all four grand slams,” said McDonald, who was a semifinalist in this year’s Australia Open junior championships and is the reigning ITF B1 Easter Bowl champion. “I want to win one, if possible. I’m playing Yucatan, Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl and the big ITFs, the warm-ups for the grand slams.”
“I’m hoping to play more Futures, some qualifying in challengers maybe. I still haven’t got my point yet, so I’m going for that.”
McDonald will be training in the LA area some of the time, and while his serve is the part of his game he is concentrating on improving right now, that isn’t the sole focus.
“Of course you can improve everything,” McDonald said. “It’s tough to say how I’ll be in a year, but right now I’m really working on my serve. I know a lot of the kids get bigger in college, that’s something you can always improve on, fitness. I’m going to pick up whatever I can from everyone.”