As a result, McDonald spent the season battling a handful of seasoned veterans instead of players his age. Included in the group was center Jason Washburn, then a senior who is now entering his fourth season at Utah.
The year of exposure helped mold McDonald, who now checks in at 6-9, 230 pounds, into a Big Ten-caliber player.
"I wanted to give him that foundation of playing against that big every day and a big playing against him," Williams told BSB. "His parents exposed him to a lot of other things and basketball was not one of the priorities until he hit the eighth grade and he started showing more interest. Keeping him as a ninth grader, he was able to grow into it."
As a sophomore last season – he took a redshirt two years ago – Washburn averaged 6.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 31 games including 13 starts. Looking back on the season he shared with McDonald, Washburn said there were a number of similarities between himself and his younger teammate.
In addition to boasting similar physical attributes, the 7-0, 230-pound Washburn said he did not start playing organized basketball until he was in seventh grade.
"I coached Trey through a lot and I helped Trey through a lot," Washburn said. "I went hard on him in practice so when he got into games he wasn't going to face anyone much better. I think that first year of varsity really helped him gain understanding."
Although Washburn said he was sure there were trying days for McDonald, he said the freshman kept his emotions in check.
That season, Battle Creek advanced to the regional finals of the state tournament before bowing out. McDonald said the team boasted eight seniors, meaning McDonald did not exclusively serve as his backup.
Williams said the year was more about developing the youngster during practice than making him the focus of game plans.
"He barely played his freshman year and his mom was probably my worst critic," the coach said with a laugh. "She wanted to see him play so why didn't I leave him on JV? I wanted to build that foundation for him. When I first started with him, he couldn't jump rope. He could barely touch the rim. He wasn't like most kids growing up that dad puts the basketball in his hand the first day and that's what you do."
While the skills might not have yet arrived for McDonald, both Washburn and Williams said the work ethic was present from day one.
"He hadn't really come into his talent yet," Washburn said. "He was this tall, lanky kid still trying to get his coordination. He didn't have much of a low-block scoring repertoire. He had one or two things that he liked to do and that's the same way I was my first year on varsity."
That work ethic translated into a desire to follow instruction that came to head in the final game of the season. Facing a big man who could pull up from well beyond the three-point arc, Washburn found himself pulled from the game for his lack of defense.
In went McDonald, who helped frustrate the shooter.
"I was confused because I had never guarded someone like that before in high school so I just let him do it and he hit a few," Washburn said. "Coach Williams pulled me and he told Trey, ‘Get in this kid. You have to.' Trey was chasing that kid around and was getting into him and keeping him in front, doing the best he could and working hard.
"That's when I could tell Trey was going to do what he's asked to do no matter what it is and he's going to do it the best he can."
Three years later, McDonald was signing a national letter-of-intent to play for the Buckeyes. On signing day, OSU head coach Thad Matta said McDonald would likely be a power forward in college. Scout.com rates him the No. 17 center prospect in the nation and a three-star recruit.
"I am expecting for him to go to Ohio State and be a very integral part of that program for the future," Williams said. "I think he can play both (center and power forward) but I think power forward is probably going to be his natural position. He'll remind you of a Tim Duncan-kind of player. He's not that player that's going to try to just dunk everything on you, but he can be a good passer. He's very fundamental."
Washburn, who has played with McDonald recently while at home for the summer, agreed with that assessment.
"He's got great touch around the rim and is a fundamentally sound kid," he said. "If I had to compare him to someone in the league I'd say Tim Duncan."