Donnal brothers' bond tight

Michigan Wolverines forward Mark Donnal (34), brother of Iowa football player Andrew Donnal watches during the first hal
Michigan Wolverines forward Mark Donnal (34), brother of Iowa football player Andrew Donnal watches during the first half of a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, February 8, 2014. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — Andrew Donnal wore a Michigan shirt to a basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in mid-February.

Donnal’s younger brother, Mark, red-shirted this season as a post player with the Wolverines’ basketball team. But that didn’t stop Iowa’s incoming senior starting tackle from supporting his brother materially.

For most siblings of opposing basketball players at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, that’s usually met by fans with a shrug. But for an Iowa football player to wear the opponent’s gear, that rose more than a few eyebrows.

“I got a little bit of garbage,” Andrew Donnal said. “But blood’s thicker than water, and that’s fine with me. It was for my little brother.”

The brothers grew up in Monclova, Ohio. Mark Donnal stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 230 pounds, about two inches taller but 75 pounds lighter than his older brother. He was fourth on Michigan’s depth chart in the post this year, but that didn’t have anything to do with talent, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein said.

“It wasn’t a matter of ability; it was the amount of playing time that we could get him,” Beilein said. “If (Mark Donnal) was a freshman like when Jon Horford was a freshman or Jordan Morgan were freshmen and things like that, he may have had to play earlier. He’s increased his strength a great deal. He’s probably as good, if not like Horford or Morgan as a rebounder. Great hands.

“He’s so much stronger than he was. He’s country strong anyhow. He is strong. He gained weight. But the one thing that he has, that I’m looking forward to coaching, is he can really shoot the ball and he can really pass the ball. When you have big men that can do that, you can open up your offense.”

It wasn’t easy for Mark Donnal to red-shirt, but Beilein called that “absolutely the right decision” for him to absorb the offense and develop defensively. Andrew went through the red-shirt process three years ago at Iowa. The two discussed how to work during a red-shirt year and how to maintain confidence, Andrew Donnal said.

Mark Donnal will have a chance quickly move up Michigan’s depth chart in the post this year. Morgan, the starter, graduates. Horford elected to transfer. Original starter, Mitch McGary, had back surgery after eight games and is weighing his options about staying in college another season or turning pro.

Either way, Mark Donnal likely will see plenty of time with the Wolverines next basketball season. His older brother said he will cheer him every step of the way.

“Whatever happens, if he gets a starting role or if he gets a little bit of time, I’m excited to root for him in a game,” Andrew Donnal said.

Neither brother will have to worry about stirring up their home base this year, however. Iowa is not scheduled to face Michigan in football, while the Wolverines and Hawkeyes play just once in basketball. That game’s in Ann Arbor.

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