Sean McDonnell, the former big man of Westmont College basketball, has found some growth opportunities in Spain during the three years since his graduation.
The 6-foot-8 and 225-pound forward recently signed with CB Imprenta Bahía San Agustín, a professional team based in Palma, Spain. It plays in LEB Oro, the second division of Spanish professional basketball.
“Being able to move up three leagues in three years has been amazing,” McDonnell said. “Guys from the NAIA don’t generally make it this far and to be able to sign with a historic club like Palma is icing on the cake. I truly couldn’t be more excited.”
McDonnell began his professional career in 2017-18 with Spain’s Cantaires Tortosa. He moved up to CB Ciudad de Ponferrada for the 2018-19 season, leading it to the Liga EBA championship and earn promotion to LEB Plata. McDonnell was named to the Liga EBA first-team that year, averaging 19.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
He followed that up last season by playing for CB Ciudad de Ponferrada, ranking as LEB Plata’s third-leading scorer at 16.8 per game before the season was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also averaged 7.1 rebounds. He earned multiple LEB Plata Player of the Week awards and received Eurobasket.com All-Spanish LEB Silver Honorable Mention.
“As a player, I’ve been able to expand every part of my game,” McDonnell said. “Overseas they not only expect you to be able to do everything on the court, but they encourage it.”
He made a big leap after transferring from Bend Community College to Westmont as a sophomore before the 2014-15 season. He averaged just 2.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game while mostly watching from the bench as the Warriors advanced to the NAIA National Championship game.
But John Moore, who retired this year after 27 years as Westmont’s head coach, said McDonnell made as much improvement before the following season as any player he’s ever coached.
“Sean was disappointed in his playing time that year and made significant improvement coming into his junior year,” he said. “He sprinted into the starting lineup and never looked back.
“Sean’s growth has been inspiring. He did not allow himself to be boxed in by expectations.”
He said McDonnell established himself as one of the best offensive rebounders in the program’s history.
“He was relentless on the glass,” Moore said. “He ran the floor, sprinting by his defender every night, all night long.”
McDonnell led the Warriors to a 21-11 record and back to the NAIA National Tournament during his junior year. He ranked first on the team in rebounds with an average of 7.1 per game and second in scoring at 14.8 points.
He took Westmont even further as a senior — to the NAIA Round of 16 — with averages of 12.1 points and 7.6 rebounds.
“He was a hungry Warrior and found the perfect role for himself his junior and senior years,” Moore said. “He completely lost himself in the team and became a tremendous team leader. He was tenacious on himself and positive with his teammates.
“He grew in every leadership area over his time at Westmont.”
McDonnell finished his collegiate career ranked seventh in program history in field goal percentage (.578) and 25th in rebounds (525) despite having played just three seasons.
Moore said he’s “enthusiastically recommended Sean every single time I have heard from an agent, general manager or a coach.”
“Sean means a great deal to our program,” he said, “because he epitomizes what a Westmont education entails, and what our program thrives upon: growth, maturity and a deepened understanding of what is most important.”
McDonnell said he had never been challenged in a basketball setting before coming to Westmont.
“Having to sit on the bench until I got better and learned how to take direction has helped me become more coachable,” he said. “Honestly, it was the first time I was really taught the game at that level.
“I had never thought about the game the way coach Moore teaches it and it’s made me a better player without a doubt.”
McDonnell admitted that his first two years in the lower divisions of European basketball were “a grind.”
“A lot of people think once you’re over there you’re making a ton of money and living in high-rises, but at the lower levels that’s not the reality,” he said. “That being said, the experience has been amazing for me.
“I’ve been able to grow as a person and a player, travel around Europe and most importantly make money doing what I love. Every year my situations have been improving, so I really have no complaints.”
He became a free agent earlier this summer before signing with CB Imprenta Bahía San Agustín.
“I’ve signed a one-year deal in hopes that I can take another leap after a good season there,” McDonnell said. “They were fifth last season before COVID-19 hit and historically are one of the best clubs in LEB Gold. They played in the finals of the whole thing in 2019.”
He is now home in Encinitas, awaiting approval of a travel visa so he can return to Spain next month.
“Training has been a little difficult on the basketball side because of the gym closures, but just doing the best I can,” McDonnell said. “Lots of shooting and working out outside, which honestly isn’t a bad thing because if you can make it out there, a nice indoor court should be a lot easier.”
His team’s training camp is set to begin in September with games starting in October.
“I’ll keep playing as long as my body allows and as long as I’m having fun with it,” McDonnell said. “Hopefully for another 10 years or so.
“The trajectory I’m on right now is really encouraging and I want to see where I can take this.”