MacDonald father and son embracing march past milestones together at Daemen

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — Nick MacDonald was decompressing from a disappointing finish to his sophomore season at Niagara University in March 2021. Settled on the couch with his mother and younger brother, they watched his father’s Daemen team win the East Region and advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II tournament.

“I felt like I was missing out,” Nick recalled. “I felt like I should be there. It was something I needed to experience.”

After a few weeks of contemplation, discussions with his family and Niagara coach Greg Paulus, he sent his father a text message: “You ready to cut down some nets?”

(Photos courtesy of Daemen Athletics)

The MacDonalds have yet to win a championship together, but Nick believes they can do so in his third year playing for his father. 

The Wildcats (22-7) are ranked sixth in the East Region entering Wednesday night’s East Coast Conference quarterfinal on their home floor at Lumsden Gymnasium, seeking a 10th consecutive trip to the semis. They have ripened at season’s end, as coach Mike MacDonald’s teams always seem to do, winning 10 of 11 games down the stretch, including a 20-point comeback against top seed St. Thomas Aquinas.

“We have a real shot to do everything that we’ve talked about in our preseason meetings,” Nick MacDonald said. “I’ve never been to the NCAA tournament. I’ve always wanted a championship, and I hope we get one in my final year. But if we don’t, I can still sit bak and smile knowing that I gave this game all I had.”

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Nicknamed “Noodles” by his grandmother, the third of four MacDonald boys is one of six double-figure scorers in Daemen’s lineup. Earlier this season he surpassed 1,000 career points. He’s most proud of working in the weight room to expand his offensive game, resulting in improved shooting percentages both inside and outside the arc, and the free throw line.

Along the way, Mike MacDonald recently won his 200th game in 10 seasons at Daemen, raising his career total to 458, including his time at Canisius and Medaille. 

When Nick decided to transfer to Daemen, he received a text message from Patrick Beilein, the coach who recruited him to Niagara, who had played for his father John at West Virginia.

“The wins for your father always mean a lot to you when you are watching, but the wins mean more now when you are a part of them and you have a hand in them,” Beilein told him.

“I was too young for Canisius,” Nick said. “But those Medaille days, Daemen days, I always rooted for the teams and felt like I was part of the program. Now that I’m part of it, contributing to those wins, it definitely means a little bit more to see my dad hit those milestones.”

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Oldest brother Matt, the best high school player in the house, played D-I basketball for Fairleigh Dickinson and Penn, and now works in the front office for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. Tallest brother Patrick, was D-III All-American for SUNY Martime, and is now a U.S. Naval Officer. Wisest brother Mark, soon to graduate from Canisius High, is considering D-III colleges.

Nick always desired to play D-I basketball. After scratching that itch at Niagara, however, he longed to be part of the program he grew up around, to play at a level that allowed him to be more than a spot-up shooter. And he embraced the role of coach’s son.

“He’s probably the only one of us who could play for our dad, from a personality standpoint,” Patrick said. “I know I couldn’t. Nick and my dad are one in the same person. He’s very stoic, very focused at what he needs to do. All business, all the time. And growing up, from the start, he was the one who loved the game most out of all of us.”

Of all his sons, Mike MacDonald believes Nick is the most likely to pursue a coaching career. 

Adrian Wojnarowski, the ESPN bombshell basketball reporter and a close friend of MacDonald’s for more than 35 years since they met at St. Bonaventure, wrote a bestselling book about coach Bob Hurley and observed several other father-son relationships over his career covering the NBA. Both of Hurley’s sons, Bobby and Danny, played for him at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City, and went on to be successful college coaches. Bobby’s first head coaching job was at the University at Buffalo; Dan’s UConn Huskies are the reigning national champions.

“Al McGuire had a great line that it’s easy to play for your father if you’re the best player, or if you’re the worst player,” Wojnarowski said.

Neither description applies to Nick MacDonald. He was the sixth man in his first year at Daemen, and even as a starter is tied for fifth on the team in field goal attempts.

“Mike is pretty particular about who he plays – good kids, good teammates, good students. He has a standard,” said Wojnarowski, who attends a handful of Daemen games every season, and watches many more online. 

“Nick fits perfectly how MIke’s team plays. He’s unselfish, a great teammate, willing passer, can shoot the ball. I think Nick is uniquely suited to play for his dad. He has the personality to take on the challenges that come with that. And if you didn’t know who he was, he just looks like the ideal Daemen player.”

Wojnarowski called his old friend “the most successful coach that I’ve known at any level,” and not only because Mike MacDonald accomplished the rare feat of winning more than 100 games at D-1, D-II and D-III school.

“He’s successful in his relationships with his players,” Wojnarowski said. “I don’t think there is a player who hasn’t invited him to his wedding. And he’s successful as a husband and a father. It’s a hard balance. I’ve seen guys at all different levels struggle with that. And I don’t know anyone who has been more successful in all aspects of life and coaching as Mike.”

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Mike MacDonald said the best part about having his son on the team “is that I get to see Nick every day.”

“When your kids go away to college, you don’t get to see them as much,” he said. “He went to Niagara for two years, it wasn’t that far away. But it was away, and I didn’t get to see him every day. So selfishly, that has been the best part about having him on the team.”

It has also eased the burden of mother Maura having to follow so many teams at once. Seven years ago, when Matt and Patrick were still in college, she logged more than 140 games for five teams on the calendar to attend or watch online during the season.

“My mom is just as big a part of this,” Nick said. “Making it easier to be at all of my games. Being able to go and support Mark’s games, because when I was in high school, my brothers were away at college. I’ve really enjoyed being able to stay around my family.

“I’m really happy that I got to play basketball in different places and different levels,” he concluded. “I got to check off that box of playing D-I basketball at Niagara, and made some great connections up there. And I got to finish it off with a great experience playing for my dad here at Daemen.”


Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.

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