For all you tar Heel fans out there, I surely hope you guys have not forgot the name Leslie McDonald. If you have, I’m almost positive it will not take long once the 2012-2013 basketball season starts for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for you to know exactly who he is. But until then I’m here to refresh your memory.
It all started back on June 9th, 2008 when the 6-4 185 pound shooting guard ranked 7th nationally at his position and 27th overall was recruited out of Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, Tennessee. On this day, Leslie McDonald chose to roll with UNC over the likes of Duke, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Memphis, Ohio St., Tennessee, and Wake Forest. For those that don’t know, Leslie received multiple Tennessee Player of the Year Honors during his junior and senior seasons. His senior season stat line was 20.7ppg, 6.5rpg, and 2.5apg. Most noticeable, was the record he holds for being the All-Time leading scorer in Memphis Private School History with 2,353 points scored in his high school career. Entering his freshman year, he was at first homesick for a while but it didn’t take long for Carolina Alumni to take him in as their own.
The fellowship with students provided a sense of warmth and home feeling which is basically the reason he was enticed to come to UNC in the first place. Basically it did not take long for him to fit in. That year, the 6-4 guard played about 10 minutes a game just to wet his feet. Not until his Sophomore season, he stepped into a scorers role off the bench. Flashes of his great shooting talents were on display while playing close to 16 minutes a game averaging a little over 7 points per game. Most importantly, every time he entered the game, Leslie provided an instant reliable perimeter threat. That year, Leslie tallied a total of 51 3-point field goals shooting close to 40% from beyond the arc.
Coming off the 2010-2011 season, things were looking up for the Tar Heels. Fresh off the news that Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, and John Henson were staying put and landing an excellent recruiting class highlighted by the commitments of two McDonald’s All-Americans in James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston, Tar Heel Nation was completely in an uproar. Many fans strongly believed the upcoming season was going to end in a National Championship. Throughout that summer, there was plenty of talk coming from student fan base that Leslie McDonald had come a long ways. In scrimmages and pick-up games, comments from students via Twitter were all pointing to Leslie playing more aggressively and shooting extremely well. Most believed that the play of McDonald could potentially have him as a contender for a starting spot in the lineup.
As the upcoming season approached, many past,present, and future Tar Heels along with many ACC players all showcased their talents at the N.C. Pro-Am tournament. Leslie McDonald was on an absolute mission at that tournament, showing that he had improved in every aspect of his game and at times being the best player on the court. He was playing great defense with multiple steals and blocked shots, and an absolute monster on the offensive end. His outside shots were a thing of perfection to watch, from the form of the shot, to the release and rotation on the ball to the swish of the net. I will be the first to admit, I was excited beyond myself. Then comes the date of July 17th, where everything changed.
That was the night that the unthinkable happened. Playing the point, McDonald passed mid court, approached the top of the key with a crossover dribble drive and simultaneously fell in what appeared to be excruciating pain, immediately grabbing his right leg. The crowds reaction said it all as Tar Heel fans were overwhelmed with a look of heavy concern. I remember that night, McDonald was very optimistic on Twitter about the injury. But early the following morning, he as well as teammates,coaches and college basketball fans around the world came to find out that the injury sustained to his right knee was a Torn ACL. From this point, coach Roy Williams knew that Leslies’ leg was going to require surgeries to reconstruct his ACL and repair his meniscus. But the question lingering was the time frame of the rehabilitation from the injury. With this news, the Tar Heels had to approach the season thinking they would be without Leslie for the whole year, which ultimately boosted the value of Reggie Bullock and incoming freshmen P.J. Hairston.
Running solely off pure motivation and will, Lezz worked extremely hard at trying to recover from the torn ACL. Asked about Leslie McDonald’s rehabilitation, Coach Williams answered by saying “His rehab has been sensational, it’s been off the charts. He’s been ahead of every expectation”. It was beginning to shape up that possibly McDonald could be ready to make a return just in time for ACC play. He was cleared to practice in mid December and even participated in 5-on-5 practices as soon as early January. With the recovery way ahead of schedule, the 6-5 210 lb shooting guard and Roy were set to make a difficult decision to return for ACC play or sit out the rest of season and gain another year of eligibility through red-shirting. Eventually, both came to agreement to not come back after missing so much of the season. At that point in the season, Reggie Bullock really was hitting stride and stepping it up both offensively and defensively, and Hairston ( a streaky shooter at best ) was also available to gain experience. Basically, there was no reason to crowd the shooting guard spot with someone at best needed time to pick up and regain the rhythm of the game.
Other than hanging his head, Leslie immediately began to make his impact felt by Tar Heel Nation including his teammates. He took it upon himself, to step in as a motivator and cheerleader, similar to what Danny Green did years before. Green made it a tradition bringing energy to the crowd by dancing during pregame warm-ups and the start of the game to the legendary iconic song “Jump Around” by House of Pain. Lezz saw it as a opportunity to keep the tradition going and to help the team in any other way he could. Not sure about you guys, but in my opinion this is something you can’t miss at the Dean Dome. Speaking from experience, the dancing of McDonald got a feeling of excitement rushing through the crowd and created smiles on the faces, no matter the age, of all the fans. To me, this let me know really how great of a person and how valuable this guys character was.
Now as the whole country came to find out, the Tar Heels injuries did not stop here as the season progressed. Dexter Strickland also torn his ACL in regular season; John Henson injured his wrist in ACC tournament and missed multiple games and most importantly, Kendall Marshall went down with a fractured wrist in NCAA Tournament vs Crieghton, which ultimately proved to be the deciding fate of our teams chances in winning a National Championship. Turns out that the injury to McDonald was the first among many that doomed UNC’s NCAA title hopes. Many people fail to realize the overall significance of impact the injury to Lezz brought. North Carolina’s last two NCAA tournament appearances were solely based on the front court players, mostly Henson and Zeller, dominating the boards and paint in transition. The injuries and this fact puts more emphasis on the main reason, in my opinion, that the Tarheels could not prevail. The reason for UNC’s early exits was the lack of an overall perimeter game. Here are the facts guys. Against Kansas this past year, in the NCAA regional finals UNC was 2-for-17 from 3-point range at a disgusting 11.8 percent. The year before, wasn’t much better in the Elite 8 game vs Kentucky. In that game, the Tar Heels shot a horrible 3-for-16 from the perimeter tallying up to 18.8 percent. The proof is right in front of us.
Think about it, UNC should likely turn to the perimeter game to make a push through competition in the upcoming season with the losses of Big Z and Henson. We have Bullock coming into next season with 18 games started under his belt with more confidence, P.J. boosting a full year of experience as well, and the returns of Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald (viewed our best shooter last year) from injury. Add that to the likes of incoming freshman shooters, J.P. Tokoto and Marcus Paige, and you begin to see UNC is in line to become a perimeter shooting team once again. This Tarheel team is extremely deep on perimeter players. Take a look at all this talent and athleticism Tar Heel Nation. Critics better watch out because with this teams energy and youth, if they stay healthy , has the intangibles to surprise a lot of people, coaches, and teams out there. To conclude, look for Leslie to push for a starting spot again, considering he was able to practice with the 2011-12 team over the closing months of last season. This means he is back completely healthy while Dexter Strickland is still in the rehabilitation process. Factoring this in, he is my favorite to win out the starting shooting guard position. But if he doesn’t, I guarantee you Lezz will definitely make a huge impact as the teams ” ENERGY GUY “. If hes the first player off the bench, he will provide spark plug to the team at both shooting guard and small forward. So I’m going all-in on Leslie McDonald saying in my opinion, he will more than likely be one of, if not the most important player on the roster for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Leslie McDonald should be sprinting out the locker room driven off “PURE” motivation strictly out to prove himself. So UNC fans let the anticipation begin and non-UNC fans let the animosity set in because come 2012-13, Leslie McDonald is back and I’m thinking he comes back with VENGEANCE!!!!!!