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As challenging as freshman year can be, Jackson Donahue is managing to deftly negotiate college life's twists and turns without veering into a ditch.
A Pawcatuck resident and former all-state basketball player at Stonington High School, Donahue is enjoying the journey at the University of Pennsylvania, on and off the court.
"I'm feeling really good about everything," Donahue said during a phone conversation on Monday.
Donahue felt a good vibe about the Ivy League school and its basketball program since taking a recruiting visit there during a two-year stint at Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep school in Massachusetts.
Fortunately for him, the feeling was mutual.
"It was a match made in heaven," Donahue said.
He's rewarded the Penn coaching staff for their faith in him with a break-out performance in recent weeks.
After scoring just 18 points through Penn's first 11 games, he's poured in 94 since entering the starting lineup. He's averaging 15.7 points in the last six games to raise overall output to 7.5.
Coach Steve Donahue, who's not related to Jackson but had his brother, Sam, as a walk-on at his former program at Boston College, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he underestimated the freshman guard's fire and competitiveness.
"The stage is never too big and he really competes on both ends," Steve Donahue said to the Inquirer.
Donahue, a 6-foot, 175-pound guard, attributes his recent scoring tear to hard work and becoming more familiar with the Penn system. He's patiently waited his turn.
"I'm just trying to do the best I can," Donahue said. "I just continue to practice hard and stick to the plan and get accustomed to the offense. I'm also getting the opportunity to perform. My confidence continues to increase as I get more reps."
His big break came on Dec. 28 at Villanova. In his first career start, he scored a team-high 18 points in 77-57 loss.
Five of his six made field goals came from 3-point range.
"I was looking to really prove myself in a big-time spotlight," Donahue said. "I think I took full advantage of it."
Donahue stayed hot, scoring in double figures in five of the last six games. He's one of the team's top perimeter threats, converting a team-best 36 percent (28-for-77) from beyond the arc. Seventy-seven of his 90 field goal attempts are 3-pointers.
He relishes his role as a sharp-shooter but also is working on developing his all-around game, too.
Opponents are taking notice of Donahue's emergence as a threat, forcing him to make some adjustments.
Yale contained Donahue on Friday, holding him to seven points on 1-for-7 from the field in Penn's 81-58 loss. But he bounced back with a 17-point effort in Saturday's defeat at Brown (89-83) in Providence.
"It's a different level so defenders are more athletic and have a high IQ," Donahue said. "It was about me moving and finding space where I could get shot off or running the offense."
The adjustment period is far from over for Donahue.
Donahue is playing on an underclassman-dominated team. Penn stands at 6-11 overall, 0-3 in the Ivy League.
If he needs any advice or support, he can lean on his five brothers and parents, David and Heather. He comes from a family of athletes.
Donahue credits his mom for helping him achieve his athletic and academic goals.
"She was the motivation behind all of it," Donahue said.