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Lexi Donarski brings competitive drive, elite two-way game to UNC women's basketball

UNC graduate student guard Lexi Donarski (20) prepares to pass the ball during scrimmage at the Live Action Carolina Basketball event in the Dean E. Smith Center on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023.

When the Tar Heels and Cyclones met last November, UNC women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart recalled that preparing to play Lexi Donarski was "so annoying" because of the guard's abilities to be both a lockdown defender and a prolific shooter.

So when the Iowa State talent entered the transfer portal this offseason, Banghart reached out with a simple pitch: “Hey, I’m tired of guarding you."

It worked. 

In her first season as a Tar Heel, Donarski will likely make an immediate impact with the same versatility that  previously gave Banghart headaches. In three seasons with the Cyclones, Donarski averaged 13.2 points and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2022.

Aside from her dynamic skillset, Donarski is bringing her intangible competitive drive.

“[I’m] a hard worker,” she said. “I’m gonna give it all I have on the offensive and the defensive end every game.”

'We brainwashed these kids'

Donarski’s morning routine wasn’t exactly ordinary for a first grader.

She started with the basics (wake up at 6 a.m., brush your teeth) and then went straight into 15 minutes of stationary ball-handling.

A bit odd for the typical 6 or 7-year-old, sure. But for Lexi and her sister Macy, now a first-year guard at Montana, this daily pattern implemented by their parents felt normal. After all, both Pam and Dave Donarski played college basketball. 

The sisters were convinced that every other kid was getting up to do these drills.

“We brainwashed these kids at a really early age,” Dave joked.

Everything was a competition in the Donarski household, from the card game Euchre to ping pong, P.I.G. and more.

One winner, the rest losers. Each victory is still denoted by tally marks posted on the Donarski’s refrigerator, updated whenever the sisters come home during breaks.

“Some people think that’s wrong,” Pam said with a laugh. “But that’s just how we were, I guess.”

The ‘shot club’

When Lexi was around 12 years old, Pam and Dave started a “shot club.” Each year, Lexi and Macy had to make a certain amount of shots in their home half-court gym by the end of the summer. Pam, a math teacher, charted each make via spreadsheet.

As the annual number of makes grew grew, with Lexi and Macy constantly trying to one-up each other, so too did the club. The sisters’ teammates joined, and their siblings eventually participated as well.

“Our kids were a little crazy,” Pam said. “They definitely weren’t satisfied. It started at 2,500 [makes], then 5,000, then 10,000, then 15,000.”

According to Dave, around 75 kids ultimately partook in the shot club. Each benchmark of makes had its own incentive, like Dairy Queen runs, pool parties, go-karting and mini-golfing. Naturally, there was merch, too: shot club T-shirts, their sleeves denoting how many makes one had. The works.

"We were getting what we wanted," Dave said. “Because obviously the more reps you get, doing them at a game-like speed, you’re gonna become a better shooter.”

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Lexi’s ability to shoot from deep complements North Carolina well. 

Last year, Eva Hodgson and Kennedy Todd-Williams’ 102 combined threes accounted for half of UNC’s 3-point shooting production. Hodgson has since graduated and Todd-Williams transferred, leaving a shooting gap on UNC's roster that Lexi is looking to fill.

Lexi alone made 88 threes at a 37.1 percent clip in her sophomore season with the Cyclones. In practices, her teammates are well aware of her multi-level scoring ability.

“People are flying out, trying to block her shot and she’ll do a pump fake and dribble pull-up," senior forward Alyssa Ustby said. "Or, she’ll do a sidestep and still shoot the three or two."

‘Do they always go this hard?’

During her visit to UNC, Lexi watched the Tar Heels in spring practice. Intrigued, she turned to Banghart and asked, “Do they always go this hard?”

“Yeah,” Banghart replied. “That’s what we do.”

Lexi was drawn to North Carolina’s fast-paced, free-flowing style of play. At Iowa State, she was more or less a shooting specialist on offense. While Lexi saw success in that role, she's eager to bring more to UNC's offense.

"When we get to practice, coach is very happy to let us do what we've been working on and to get better," Lexi said. "There isn't really anything that's limiting the shots that we take. She wants us to just score, play together and have fun."

On the other end, shutting down opposing guards is a challenge Lexi embraces. Given that UNC hasn’t had an all-conference defender since 2013, Lexi should turn North Carolina’s good defense — which finished third in the ACC in scoring defense through conference play — into a great one.

Whatever the task is, the highly touted transfer has both the willingness and talent to do it. As the preseason No. 16 Tar Heels pursue a Final Four appearance, Lexi’s grit and two-way versatility might just make her the missing piece they needed.

“She really is only concerned, truly, with winning games,” Dave said. “So this is her opportunity to go and potentially play for a national championship. She’s crazy excited about it.”


@dthsports |

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.