Ben McDonald was not as interested as usual in the NCAA men's basketball tournament this year because his alma mater, Louisiana State, did not make the field for the first time in a decade.
But McDonald still should have at least one reason to pay attention to the NBA playoffs, at least as long as Duane Ferrell and the Atlanta Hawks stay alive. McDonald played one basketball season at LSU (1986-87), getting into 32 of 39 games and starting six. He averaged 10.5 minutes, 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds. His high scoring output of 13 points came at Auburn.
McDonald scored just four in the game he remembers most. Coach Dale Brown used a box-and-one against Georgia Tech's Ferrell, a Calvert High graduate. McDonald, a freshman, covered Ferrell and helped hold him to six points.
LSU reached the regional final, losing to eventual national champ Indiana in the Bob Knight slam-the-phone game.
"Dale Brown still tells me I would have been a better basketball player than baseball player," McDonald said. "He tells me he thinks I could have played in the NBA. I was pretty good, but I made the right choice."
McDonald was a 6-foot-6 center in high school and was invited to national all-star camps.
"I was recruited by LSU as a small forward, but when Nikita Wilson was out I had to play center," he said. "Here I was, 6-6, 185 pounds, guarding guys like Will Perdue."
McDonald also was an all-state punter and place-kicker in high school football.
Several Orioles starred at sports besides baseball. A sampling:
* Brady Anderson, a three-time letter winner as a high school basketball guard, competed in open track meets in California the past two off-seasons.
* Mike Devereaux holds the Wyoming state record in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter --es and the high jump (6 feet 10).
* Jeffrey Hammonds was recruited by Notre Dame, Michigan, UCLA, Miami and Virginia as a defensive back.
* Mike Mussina was offered a scholarship to Penn State after kicking a 60-yard field goal in a football camp there. Mussina set county records for field goals, extra points and touchdown receptions. He also averaged 24.0 points during his three years as point guard for Montoursville (Pa.) High.
* Mike Oquist was an all-conference quarterback for La Junta (Colo.) High.
* Cal Ripken was an all-county and all-metro soccer selection at Aberdeen High. McDonald gives Ripken high grades in basketball, saying, "He's got a pretty good game, pretty good moves."
* Chris Sabo, an all-city golfer from Detroit, played on two national championship hockey teams and was considered at the time one of the top goalie prospects in Michigan.
* Lee Smith, a 6-6 shooting guard, was recruited by Kentucky to play basketball.
* Jeff Tackett was the leading scorer and captain of his high school soccer team.
See ya later, alligators
Nothing in McDonald's contract prohibits him from wrestling alligators, but common sense has made him proceed with caution.
"They have asked me to stay away from it, which I have the last two years," McDonald said. "It was fun and it's not that dangerous. When you're 16, 17, 18, you think you are invincible. Once I got in college, I didn't do it much anymore. I mostly drive the boat now."
He was aboard when an alligator bit his friend's arm, necessitating 63 stitches. "It's usually not that dangerous," McDonald said.