Winding path eventually led Shaker Heights' Dale Bonner to Ohio State

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

The coaches weren’t there to see Dale Bonner.

On a Sunday afternoon at Baldwin Wallace in early 2018, most of them who were watching Shaker Heights were there to see Christian Guess, a talented senior wing who would sign with the University of Missouri after the season. But with Guess unavailable for a showdown with Lakewood St. Edward due to technical foul accumulation, those on hand for the Scholastic Play By Play Classic game were instead treated to a career performance from Bonner, a senior guard who now had an opportunity to shine.

What they saw that night was a 38-point outburst from Bonner in what would ultimately be an eight-point loss for the Raiders.

They wouldn’t leave as believers. That would take more time.

“I don’t mean to be, ‘I told you so,’ but …” Shaker Heights coach Danny Young said with a laugh.

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Before Baylor and Ohio State, Dale Bonner had to work

On April 17, Bonner announced a transfer from Baylor to Ohio State for his final season of college basketball. The move not only helped sore up backcourt depth for the Buckeyes, but it also brought the 6-2, 170-pound guard back to his home state where he’s had to earn everything on the court.

“My expectations are to control what you can control and have an everyday mindset,” Bonner said. “Come in and be ready to work. Of course we wanna get a Big Ten championship first and then just work from there. Obviously I want to get back to the (NCAA) Tournament, so expectations are always that. Continue to work on that and get ready to be in that type of situation.”

That approach and climb both started at Shaker Heights, where Bonner played junior varsity as a freshman before earning a spot on the varsity.

“I remember him not being big on, ‘I’ve got to come right out of eighth grade and be on the varsity,’ ” Young said.” Sometimes when you have stars right out the gate it comes with expectation amongst them and their parents. He was not like that. All he was about is, ‘I’m going to run cross country so I can be in great shape, I’m going to take care of my body.’ ”

According to Young, that included embracing cryotherapy, something Bonner would do at 6 a.m. before going to school. It allowed him to stay fresher than his teammates, the coach said, and play harder for longer stretches of games.

It helped Bonner steadily progress into a second-team all-state selection in Division I as a senior after averaging 18.4 points per game, earning him a spot on Shaker Heights’ “All-Ohio Wall.” But his approach had a lot to do with his development as well.

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“Dale has always loved the process of the work, and he understood exactly where he’s at and where he had to continue to evolve and continue to be,” Young said. “I think that’s why he’s been able to continue to do well, because he’s able to be self-aware and understand where he’s at and work the weaknesses to strengths to where he can be important to the team’s success.”

As his senior year got underway, Bonner signed with Fairmont State, a Division II school in West Virginia – and even earning that scholarship offer was a challenge.

How did Dale Bonner get to Fairmont State?

Although Bonner had been invited to a Fairmont State elite camp during the summer before his senior year, he wasn’t the primary guard the Fighting Falcons were watching.

That would change by the end of the day, Young said.

“They were really going to offer another guard that they liked better but they wanted to see Dale compete against that guard,” the coach said. “What happened was the last hour of the camp, the kid started getting weaker and not going as hard and losing that momentum. Dale kept getting stronger and more intense and more enthusiastic as the camp ended.”

Soon, Fairmont State – led by coach Joe Mazzulla, now head coach for the Boston Celtics – was calling to offer Bonner the scholarship that he ultimately accepted. Just like at Shaker Heights, though, it would be a while before Bonner made an impact. He would redshirt during the 2018-19 season, his first with the program, before averaging 17.8 points in 2019-20 and 21.2 in 2020-21 before transferring to Baylor.

Baylor guard Dale Bonner (3) looks to pass under pressure from Iowa State guard Tamin Lipsey, back, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the second round of the Big 12 Conference tournament Thursday, March 9, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Although he took on a more complementary role rather than one of a featured player, Bonner averaged 18.3 minutes in two seasons as the Bears went 50-18 and earned first a No. 1 and then a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Like at Shaker Heights, it was a gradual progression.

“He did great for two years, then went to Baylor and now Ohio State,” Young said. “That’s what he’s about. He wasn’t moaning or complaining about being overlooked or underrecruited.”

Although, in Young’s mind, Bonner would’ve had reason to do so. As the guard’s commitment to Ohio State was making news, Young thought back to that game against St. Edward during Bonner’s senior season. Once Bonner opted to transfer from Fairmont State, Young said he heard from a number of schools that were interested.

Some of them had been at that game at Baldwin Wallace years ago.

“I’m saying to them (in 2018), ‘Now do you think he’s a Division I player?’ ” Young said. “Several of them told me, ‘Nah, I think D-II is about right.’ I said, ‘I’m telling you man, this kid is a surefire Division I player.’ The ironic full circle: when he left Fairmount State and put himself in the portal, every one of those college coaches in Northeast Ohio now is calling me and his dad and wanting him now to come to the school.

“It’s a great, great story that I will tell forever.”


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