To say the least Donnie Hale wasn't thrilled about having to attend prep school this season.
His plan was to be a freshman at Purdue, but those plans changed when Coach Matt Painter's program didn't have a scholarship for him as a result of E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson opting to return for their senior seasons.
So he's spent the 2010-11 season at Bridgton Academy in Maine, 1,130 miles from his New Albany, Ind. home.
Being so far from home was quite the adjustment for the 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward. However, being at "the nation's only all postgraduate private school for young men," which has an enrollment of 185 students has grown on him and has been a year he believes will pay big dividends in the future.
"You can't go wrong getting an extra year just to develop your game," Hale said. "I would've much rather been at Purdue, but I've got to take advantage of what I have. Everything happens for a reason. I'm here for a reason so I've got to take advantage of it.
"At the very beginning, it was kind of rough sometimes, but you learn how to cope with it and deal with it. You grow up a lot whenever you're gone. I've learned to deal with it. It's not too bad."
Bridgton coach Whit Lesure says Hale has handled his year in prep school very well.
"He's been a great school citizen, student and teammate," Lesure said.
"While this year was never something he would've wanted to do, in the long run it may be something that serves him very well at Purdue."
Not only has the year at Bridgton proven to be beneficial from a basketball development standpoint, but also two of the four classes Hale is taking will count towards his Purdue degree.
To say the least, it's been a memorable season for the former Indiana All-Star.
In December, Hale recorded a triple-double with 29 points, 19 rebounds and 13 blocked shots against NIA.
The next month he hit a 65-footer to send a game into overtime, a game that Bridgton eventually won.
Trailing by three and 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock, the Phelps Academy player missed the front end of a one-on-one, Hale grabbed the rebound, turned took a couple dribbles and fired it from about the three-point line on the other end of the floor.
"I lined it up and threw it in," Hale explained. "I just kind of chucked it up and it went in."
Hale knew his shot would have enough distance, but wasn't sure whether it would be on target.
"I threw it up there and was looking at it and thought, 'It has a chance' and as it got closer I got more confident that it was going in," he said.
When it went in, the reaction in the gym was one of disbelief.
"I've seen a couple buzzer beaters in my time, but the way the whole thing transpired was just unbelievable," Bridgton assistant coach Tim Atwood said.
"(Donnie) fired it up and just drilled it."
"Our team went crazy," Hale said. "You saw the other team's faces and they were like, 'Wow, did that really just happen?'"
It happened, but unfortunately the shot itself wasn't caught on tape. Bridgton's video man only got the ball going in the hoop and not Hale shooting it.
That shot was certainly the highpoint of an otherwise disappointing season for Bridgton.
Bridgton is 10-13 this season. Hale is averaging around 18 points and 12 rebounds and coming off a 15-point, seven-rebound, three-block performance the other night against Brewster.
Lesure admits Hale's season has been a lot like his team's. He's had his moments, but there have also been some inconsistency.
"On the court, he's certainly a team leader and as of late he's putting up pretty good numbers, too," said Lesure, who points out Hale has been an honor roll student at Bridgton.
Offensively Bridgton has used Hale playing with his back to the basket as well as with him out on the wing.
"When he's making shots from the perimeter, I think that kind of puts him over the top if you will," Lesure said. "He's definitely our best interior threat."
And Bridgton's coaching staff knew pretty much from the get go that they had quite a player in Hale.
"The first day in the fall seeing him play I was like, 'Wow, this kid is the real deal,'" Atwood said. "He came in as our best outside shooter. He's definitely had some games where he's hit some shots, but outside he's been not as consistent as we had hoped.
"Inside he's definitely very talented, but his strength level is kind of playing against him because the guys we play against are physically stronger than he is. He's able to counter that with his athleticism and with his rebounding ability. There have been a couple games where he had 20 and 18 rebounds to go along with 25 points."
"For him it's just a matter of bringing every day the consistency that we've seen in spurts," Atwood added. "He has the ability to be a big-time player."
Hale's game has developed because he's faced some big-time players in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference. You might recall former Boilermakers Chad Austin and Brad Miller are alums of the NEPSAC, during their stint at Maine Central Institute.
Hale has gone against players like Andre Drummond, the 6-11, 275-pounder, who is Rivals.com's No. 1-ranked player in the Class of 2012. Hale has also faced 6-9 Markus Kennedy, who is headed to Villanova next season.
Bridgton will conclude its regular season Saturday against Winchendon and will begin play in the NEPSAC Tournament on Wednesday.
After the season, Hale will continue to focus on his academics and hit the weigh room.
He would like to arrive at Purdue weighing between 215 and 220.
"That would be a great weight if I can get there before the season starts next year," he said.
"He's going to need to have a big spring, big summer," said Lesure, referring to spending extra time lifting. "I don't think he's done everything he needs to in the regard."
Hale is counting on having an immediate impact as a freshman at Purdue, but knows having his presence felt from Day 1 isn't going to come easy.
"I've got to put in the hard work and time and I think I can do it," Hale said.
Lesure has a good relationship with Hale and admits if he was drafting players, he would take him every single time.
"I don't have any criticism at all other than to say, 'Ahead of you is a very demanding, significant challenge, and when this is all over, you better be ready to go,' Lesure said.
"He's a sharp kid, who will adapt very well. I think he'll be ready by October."
At the next level, Hale thinks his future might be as a power forward, but he could develop into a small forward, too.
"Wherever I can fit in," he said. "I've been down low my whole life, so that's definitely an advantage. I've been working on my perimeter game. I would love to be able to do both (in college) because you never know who's going to guard you. I may have a smaller guy on me that I can post up and get easy buckets that way or a bigger guy I can work him out on the perimeter a little bit. I just want to be versatile."
Hale is very coachable, says Lesure.
"He has a very good understanding of the game," Lesure said. "I think he's combination of skill level, athleticism and length make him a very, very good college freshman prospect, but I also think as far as getting significant time in the Big Ten he needs to put on the necessary muscle and probably just make the adjustment to the major college game, too."
Hale will graduate from prep school in mid-May and plans to arrive at Purdue by at least July.
Needless to say he's looking forward to his Purdue career and getting to play next season alongside Robbie Hummel.
"It's going to be a great learning experience," said Hale about getting to be a part of Hummel's final season at Purdue.
"I'm not saying I want to get (prep school) over with, but I'm really looking forward to getting to Purdue and getting things started there."
And although the Boilermakers will be without Moore[/db] and Johnson, Hale is confident the Old Gold and Black will contend for the 2012 Big Ten championship and be a top-25 team.
"Coach Painter brings in good recruits and good guys to play with," Hale said. "It's a good feeling to be able to expect to be a top team every year."
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