Mackey’s TigersThe Tigers did justice to Mackey’s memory in the first tournament by opening play with a 80-47 victory over Duluth Marshall. Matt Mackey, Donavon’s brother, started for Northwestern and finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In the early 1990s, the Northwestern Tigers played a gritty and relentless style of basketball.
Every member of the team played his role, but the heart and soul of the group was point guard Donavon Mackey.
“I knew him growing up,” said Dave Gustafson, head coach of the Northwestern High School boys basketball team. “We played against each other every year in the Christmas tournament in Ashland.”
Gustafson, then playing for the South Shore Cardinals, looked forward to facing off with Mackey each year. They crossed paths often at basketball camps and, on at least one occasion, were roommates.
Now Gustafson proudly honors Mackey’s memory in the annual Donavon Mackey Tip-off.
Mackey, a 1993 graduate of Northwestern High School, was killed with his younger brother, Robert, in a car-train accident in January 1995.
Northwestern launched the inaugural Mackey basketball tournament shortly afterward as a four-team, two-day event.
The Tigers did justice to Mackey’s memory in the first tournament by opening play with a 80-47 victory over Duluth Marshall. Matt Mackey, Donavon’s brother, started for Northwestern and finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Today the Mackey Tip-off is a one-day affair, but Gustafson hopes to see it return to a two-day event.
“It would be nice to get back to an actual tournament,” Gustafson said. “But it’s hard to get three other teams to commit to two days in a row.”
The Tigers face just one opponent this year. Northwestern hosts Ashland at 7:30 p.m. today in the Donavon Mackey Tip-off.
“It’s kind of ironic that we’re playing Ashland,” Gustafson said.
That’s because Gustafson isn’t the only one who remembers facing Mackey at Ashland’s annual holiday tournament. Joe Corbine, head coach of the Ashland boys basketball team, played for the Oredockers during those same years.
“The Northwestern teams that I played against back in high school hold the same principles that are in the program today,” Corbine said. “When you played at Northwestern, you were in for an aggressive, physical, no-nonsense night.
“Donavon was truly the leader of those teams and demonstrated that mindset from opening tip to the ending buzzer, and it showed in his teammates,” Corbine said. “They were Donavon Mackey’s Northwestern Tigers.”
Mackey made a name for himself during his four years at Northwestern High School. He earned all-conference honors as a defensive back in football and threw a nice fastball during the baseball season, but basketball held a special place in his heart.
Mackey’s boyhood dream was to play point guard for the Northwestern Tigers. He made the varsity team as a sophomore and led the Tigers in assists.
His junior year was cut short due to a broken leg, but Mackey returned at full health in his senior year. He averaged 17 points and six assists per game — both team-high marks — and earned Heart O’ North All-Conference first team honors.
Mackey won the respect of his teammates as a senior and was named the Tigers’ most valuable player.
He also earned the respect of his opponents, who today are happy to honor his memory.
“Now when we’re playing the Mackey, or at Northwestern in general, I always give pause to the memory of those battles we had on the floor and the image of him leading the charge against us,” Corbine said.
“The way he played is how we want our players to be,” Gustafson said. “This is a nice way to keep that memory alive.”
NOTES: Both Donavon and Robert Mackey played multiple sports. Donavon played football, basketball and baseball, and Robert competed in football, wrestling and track. The Robert Mackey Wrestling Invite, held annually at NHS in memory of Robert Mackey, is scheduled for Dec. 15. ... Donavon and Robert Mackey’s parents are Julie and Kurt Mackey.