Former Baker basketball star Chad Donley is still doing what he loves — but now, it’s on a bigger stage.
Donley went from Baker to Northwest Florida State College. After two years at Northwest Florida State — that included a redshirt year when he didn’t play — Donley is living his dream playing Division I college basketball at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty is the school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Donley said he enjoys every moment on and off the court at the Christian school, which calls its students “Champions for Christ.”
“When I made my college decision, it didn’t really have to do with basketball,” Donley said. “I wanted to be at a place where I can grow, of course, as a basketball player and a man, but mostly I wanted a place where I could grow spiritually. So I felt like this was the best spot for me and so far it has proved me right.
“Almost everybody in a leadership position, as far as my coaches and teachers, are strong Christians and it’s nice to know I have a mentor wherever I go. I can talk to anybody about anything and they just want to see me grow stronger in my relationship with God.”
Along with being challenged to grow spiritually, Donley is being challenged to grow as a basketball player as he has stepped up in competition.
While the Flames struggled to a 1-10 start, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Donley was finding his way into rotation and has averaged almost 14 minutes’ playing time per game while scoring 4.4. Donley has scored a personal high of eight points twice.
Donley credits Northwest Florida State coach Steve Forbes, a former University of Tennessee assistant coach, for preparing him to play at college basketball’s highest level.
“It’s different (the level of competition),” he said. “But coach Forbes, he prepared me pretty well for what I would experience at this next level, and the competition is better every day. It’s the speed of the game, really.
“Going from Baker to Northwest Florida, it took me a whole year, really, to get used to the physicality and the speed of the game. Here, that’s kind of been my problem as well. All of the guys are bigger and stronger than they were in junior college; that’s what I have had to adjust to.”
Donley is pleased with the progress he has made since arriving in Lynchburg last June.
“I think it’s transitioned pretty well,” he said. I am really a little undersized for my position, but I’ve always got a chip on my shoulder. I think that’s something that is going to help me to achieve success.”
Growing up in a military family, Donley was used to constant moving until his family settled in Baker while he was in middle school. Donley thinks being a military kid also helped him adapt quickly to life away from his family and friends.
“I do miss the beaches,” he said. “My dad was military, so I was kind of used to moving around quite a bit. It feels kind of weird for me to stay in one spot for a while like I did in Florida.
“I don’t miss it that much, but of course, I do miss my friends and family every now and then. I just had to open up a new chapter of my life and move on.”
Donley knows he wouldn’t be where he is without the help of a lot of people along the way.
He had a special word of thanks for Baker coach Mike Martello.
“I learned a lot from coach Martello,” Donley said. “And I’d like to express my gratitude for him going out of his way to help me. Coach Martello and coach Forbes taught me a lot so I can succeed at this level.
“I just appreciate everybody that believed in (me) that have been there for me. I just love my hometown.”