Each time Leslie McDonald made a play on Tuesday night in the Greater N.C. Pro-Am, the public address announcer at N.C. Central said, "It's gotta be the shoes." McDonald wore a pair of yellow Nikes. They were new, he said. PHOTO: Robert Willett
DURHAM — I wasn’t around to see it, and wasn’t covering North Carolina then but, by all accounts, Leslie McDonald was having a nice summer last year in the Greater N.C. Pro-Am, the summer league at N.C. Central comprised of local college and professional standouts past and present.
And then, of course, came that knee injury. McDonald suffered a torn ACL in the pro-am, and then sat out his junior season with the Tar Heels. It could have been a season in which he emerged as a more consistent contributor on a team with no shortage of star power. And, who knows, maybe McDonald’s presence would have solved some of the Tar Heels’ perimeter shooting woes.
But, no matter. He spent the 2011-12 season watching from the bench.
Now, though, McDonald is back – and back in the same league that last year brought an early end to his season. When UNC’s season begins in November, McDonald will be a fourth-year junior with two seasons of eligibility remaining. But for now, he’s attempting to rebuild the confidence – and parts of his game – that he might have lost while recovering from his injury. So far, so good, as I wrote about in a story here.
Along with UNC teammate P.J. Hairston (more on him here later), McDonald was the key factor in his team’s (Sheraton Imperial) 62-59 victory against The Athlete’s Foot on Tuesday night. McDonald scored 21 points, most of them off aggressive moves to the basket. He even showed a little post-up game against a shorter defender.
Afterward, McDonald stopped to talk with some media members. Here’s the Q-and-A:
Q: Even though it’s only summer league, what does a strong performance like that do for your confidence?
A: Good, man. Didn’t hit too many jumpers, didn’t shoot that many jumpers – got to the basket a lot, had a little post-up game. But I’m going to have to do that sometimes. There’s going to be smaller guards on me, so that was a good atmosphere, a good chance for me to work on my post-up game, attacking the basket strong and making and-one plays.
Q: So is Rasheed the coach, or what? (Former UNC standout Rasheed Wallace plays on Sheraton Imperial.)
A: Rasheed has played this game so long. He’s been on our level and beyond. So I’m going to listen to him. He has valuable information for you. So if he tells you to do this, you do it. And if you don’t, then that’s your choice. Because that’s excellent advice from him.
Q: Are you trying to work on anything specific or is the goal just have fun out here?
A: I mean, it’s to have fun. You work on your game. Our first game, I was mainly shooting the ball. This game, I was mainly attacking the basket, trying to get rebounds. You know, I had a little guy on me so, like I said, I was posting up. And you know, this type of environment, this event, helps you to work on other aspects of your game you can’t do in practice.
Q: Do you go into each game here with something in mind to focus on specifically?
A: In the beginning of the game, you don’t know how the game is. Once the game got tied up, I thought to myself, it’s timeout for the shooting. You know, shooting shots. Let’s get to the basket, let’s get fouls. Let’s get to the line and make points.
Q: You suffered your injury a year ago in this event. How good is it just to be back out on the court again?
A: It feels great. Just being able to run with other athletes, like I’ve seen last year, it feels good. Last year, I was sitting on the bench the whole time, watching other people play. And now they get to watch me play. So it feels good.
Q: At one point did you realize you were back?
A: It was a little bit over a month ago. That’s when I really found out that I was 100 percent. I was able to go up for a dunk, or, you know, cut a certain way. I had my quickness back. So that’s when I really looked at myself and said, yeah, I’m 100 percent back.
Q: How have things been going this summer in Chapel Hill?
A: Oh, it’s good. I really like this new NCAA rule allowing players to [work] with the coaches, practice a little bit. It’s helping the freshmen. It’s helping the freshmen come along and get that glue that we need to come together. But I really like it because we’re practicing all the time.
Q: And how have the four freshmen looked?
A: They’re good. Athletes. Great, and with the help of Jonas, our strength and conditioning coach, [and] listening to coach Williams, I think they’re going to be big-time players.
So there you have it. For more information on the summer league, you can find rosters and schedule information here. Stay tuned for a q-and-a with P.J. Hairston later this morning …