The North Carolina Tar Heels suffered two devastating losses last season when both Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald suffered season ending ACL injuries. One of the biggest question marks for Roy Williams heading into the season was how would the “ACL Boys” comeback from their injuries? How long would it take them to get into a rhythm and in basketball shape?
Strickland got the start and played 21 minutes while McDonald came off the bench and played 17. Strickland was particularly impressive to me in the way he moved with and without the ball in his hands. On the defensive end he looked like the same old Dexter Strickland, his lateral movement was good, he stayed in front of his man and made plays.
His line wasn’t particularly good with six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in his 21 minutes but the fact that he looked to be in good basketball shape and moved with confidence is a huge sign for Carolina. McDonald on the other hand was sharp offensively, shooting 3-5 from the field and knocking down a three pointer and going 5-6 from the free throw line. Scoring 12 points and dishing out three assists in a very efficient 17 minutes on the court.
Here’s what Roy Williams had to say about the two:
“Well I told him and Leslie I thought tonight was big for them because for Leslie it’s been over a year since he’s played in a game and I think it was good for Dexter too. What’s that eight months ago he had surgery, so I thought it was good. You look at his line and you say, ‘well I don’t know how good that is,’ but 21 minutes just to get back out there in action I thought was good for him and I think he is getting better everyday with his knee for sure.” Scout
I’ve thrown my support behind Strickland serving as the teams sixth man this season. It is my view that because of his multiple, important roles on the team and the rosters rich perimeter assets, he would serve the team best in that role. Roy gave him the start tonight but indications are the lineup we saw tonight is not set in stone.
McDonald spoke about getting ready for the situation of who will lead the “jump around” festivities on the sideline if he ends up in the starting lineup. Coach also spoke openly about starting Desmond Hubert due to his practice performance so far but was open about his disappointment with him in the game, indicating a switch at the center position could be forthcoming.
No matter what roles Strickland and McDonald end up serving this season, it’s huge for Carolina that they both, this early looked as good as they did Friday night. Typically you don’t want to take much away from a scrimmage against a Division II team. But in this case it’s okay to get excited in my book. Whether you are playing Duke or a Junior College, these guys were going full steam and seeing them move the way they did is a great indication that one of the biggest question marks heading into the season has been answered.