Public service powers Atlantic stars

More news about: Staten Island | SUNY-Maritime
Patrick MacDonald leads the SUNY-Maritime basketball team on the court and helps leads an entire student-run battalion off it.
Photo by SUNY-Maritime athletics

By Ryan Scott

“I was not actually a very good basketball player in high school,” says SUNY-Maritime All-American senior center Patrick MacDonald.“The only options I had to play basketball were pretty much Maritime or going to play for my dad at Medaille."

“I’m not sure Patrick took basketball very seriously early on,” says SUNY Maritime's first year head coach Mike Berkun. He played at Medaille for Michael MacDonald and then worked on his staff at Division II Daemen when MacDonald moved there. So Berkun has known Patrick MacDonald for more than a decade.

“As he got older and he saw [what it could do for him], he was able to take it very seriously. His work ethic and his mindset is really the difference, part of which he learned from his brother." Matt MacDonald is also carrying on the family tradition as a senior captain at Division I Penn.

Patrick MacDonald may not have always been sold on basketball, but he’s been laser-focused on a Naval commission for a long time. “It’s been a goal of mine since my freshman year of high school,” says MacDonald. “My godfather had played basketball at the Naval Academy. Just hearing some of the stuff he got to do with his career in the Navy was very cool, but the most important thing is, as an officer, you get to lead sailors in the fleet and I always thought that would be a valuable career.”

SUNY-Maritime is not the typical Division III school. It has limited majors that are specifically designed for maritime careers, but it fit perfectly into MacDonald’s plans. “I wanted to major in engineering and I wanted Navy ROTC. If I got to play basketball, that was an extra bonus."

Berkun says, "What I tell recruits is that if you’re really focused on academics and you’re really focused on basketball, there isn’t a better place in the country, because there’s no distraction."

As one of six state-run maritime academies in the country, SUNY-Maritime provides a structured environment and a leg up on careers at sea. Opportunities for hands on learning abound, and MacDonald has taken full advantage of them.

"This semester I’m second in command for the entire student-run battalion on campus,” explains Macdonald. “Navy summer training has taken me to both coasts and I’ve gotten to meet people from all over the country. This past summer I was on a ship out of Norfolk, Virginia, and we got to come up to New York for Fleet Week, which was one of the best experiences of my life.”

After graduation he’ll be commissioned as a nuclear surface warfare officer in the US Navy. After a two year initial assignment on a conventional power warship and a stint at Navy nuclear power school, he will be stationed on a nuclear air craft carrier as one of the officers in charge of the reactor.

“I had to miss a day of practice earlier this season because all navy nuclear officers have to pass a series of interviews in DC – two technical interviews and a one-on-one interview with a four star admiral who’s in charge of naval reactors.”

MacDonald studied for months to pass those interviews and is in line to fulfill his dream this summer. At 6’8,” he’s much more likely to stay above the water than under it. “I spent a day on a ballistic missile submarine and it’s pretty small,” says MacDonald.

His work ethic off the court has translated to unexpected success on the court as well. Already a two-time All-Skyline performer, MacDonald was a Preseason All-American this year and has averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. He’s also bumped his field goal percentage from an already impressive 55% last year to an astonishing 67% this season.

The team is sitting at 8-12 overall, but in the hunt for a conference tournament position and from there, who knows? Adds MacDonald, “We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep the season going and give us a chance.”

Regardless of the outcome, great things are on the horizon for Patrick MacDonald and he’s helped to leave a legacy at SUNY-Maritime as well.

“I would love to be a freshman again and be able play four more years in the program and in the program we’re building to become,” says MacDonald. “The first call I made when I found out our previous coach was leaving was to my dad. I think from there, he planted the seed.”

Berkun says, “Patrick was a big part in me coming here. I would have never heard of the place if he wasn’t here. When I knew the job was open it wasn’t Pat calling me and recruiting me, but it made a lot of sense. Forget his ability, just having someone with his maturity and his leadership ability who knows the basics of the system we want to run was incredibly helpful.”

While the Privateers will lose MacDonald, starting point guard John Liccese and two other contributors to graduation, they’ve developed a bevy of young talent ready to take over where the seniors left off and follow Berkun to new heights. They’re always looking for more players committed to things beyond just basketball.

This is something Staten Island women’s head coach Tim Shanahan understands on a deep level.

Column continues below

Staten Island Coach Tim Shanahan had a remarkable career in public service before becoming the Dolphins' head coach in 2012.

Shanahan has lived through great adversity. “My dad was a police office, died at 39 of a massive coronary, so I was raised by my mother – she was 36 with four children under the age of eleven. Even then my mother told us, ‘people got it worse than we do,’ that’s the attitude I was raised with.

Hoopsville: Tim Shanahan interview (Jan. 2018)

Shanahan spent 21 years as a New York State Court Officer, the law enforcement agency responsible for the security of courtrooms and judges. He spent many years in the investigative unit and finally as citywide Major for the Family Court of New York City, overseeing hundreds of officers across the city.

“It’s where I learned to delegate authority,” says Shanahan. “I literally couldn’t be in five boroughs at the same time. Now I sit in the middle of my coaches during a game, not down on the end. I know I’m the ultimate decision maker, but they know the game and I rely on them.”

Shanahan’s office was six blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “I literally drove by minutes before the first plane hit. It was a beautiful, clear day.” Once the reality of the attack set in, Shanahan led a group of officers to assist just after the second tower collapsed.

“We were basically firemen that day. Helping move hoses, searching nearby buildings, things I just can’t talk about for various reasons. When I got there the buildings had just come down, so it was like gale force winds blowing everywhere. The dust and debris were so bad, even with masks.”

Shanahan is certainly humble about his experiences, but he’s also very intentional about making sure basketball stays in proper perspective. “I’ve seen a lot of things,” he says. “So do you think basketball bothers me? I don’t lose sleep over it.”

Most every coach will tell you that success in the classroom and the development of strong, capable human beings is the purpose of their job – and it’s not just lip service – but Shanahan understands that purpose differently than most.

“In my six years as head coach, all our players graduated. In eleven years, including the five when I was assistant coach, 98% of our players graduated – and the other 2% are nurses or police officers who had to leave, but are all still working towards their degrees.”

Shanahan’s commitment to public service shines through in everything he says and does. “I would go back to work [as a Court Officer] in a heartbeat,” he says. “I absolutely love coaching, don’t get me wrong, but [law enforcement] is what I do.”

Shanahan was forced to retire after the Staten Island Ferry crash of 2003, which killed eleven and injured 165, including Shanahan, who aided those in need even as he himself was seriously hurt. “People died that day,” he says. “I’m not complaining; I was very fortunate.”

Wins and losses matter deeply to Tim Shanahan, but only for the value they have in shaping young women to serve their communities. It does translate to the basketball court as well, though.

Led by Preseason All-American point guard Christina Pasaturo, Shanahan’s Dolphins are 18-3, 12-1 in the CUNYAC and looking to avenge that lone conference loss  CUNYAC co-leader Brooklyn next week.

“We control our destiny,” says Shanahan. “By the way we play on the floor. That’s a very rare thing for a basketball team and I hope we can make the most of it.” Whatever happens on the floor, with Shanahan’s guidance and example, those players are certainly prepared to make the most of whatever comes next.

One of those things might just be outer space. Major Jasmin Moghbeli (US Marine Corps), a former MIT basketball player, was recently chosen as part of the 2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate Class. With an advanced degree in Aerospace Engineering and as a distinguished graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School with more than 150 combat missions, she’s currently engaged in a two-year training program that will make her eligible for a space flight assignment.

Unfortunately astronaut candidates are not available to the media during training, so we’ll have to wait a few years for a more detailed story. She is living proof, though, that Division III basketball can literally take you anywhere.

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon