Back in 2009 I made the pilgrimage down to Chapel Hill to catch one of the few games I've seen lately at the Dean Dome. The opponent was Rutgers, and it was early enough in the season that we weren't yet aware of the impending disaster, although there were hints. At one point, I found myself idly chatting with an usher about the five-man freshman class. Leslie McDonald's name came up, and all the usher had to say was "He might as well transfer now, because he's never getting any playing time."
Four years later McDonald is the only member of that class still on campus, and the only thing that has sidelined him has been a rash of injuries. He missed the entirety of the 2011-12 season after tearing an ACL in summer league play, and sat out six games last season after hurting his knee and then incurring some disciplinary action for unspecified reasons. In between that, he's watched a raft of guards that we're supposed to keep him on the bench leave the program prematurely — Will Graves (kicked off team), Larry Drew (transfer), Kendall Marshall (NBA), and Stilman White (Mormon mission). Now, as the team's lone senior and a stabilizing backcourt presence, it's finally his turn to step up.
Or it will be, once he gets back on the court. McDonald will miss a small but unspecified number of games after the university had to send a cease-and-desist letter this summer to a mouthguard manufacturer using McDonald's name to promote their wares. The NCAA is showing some interest, and the guard's familiarity with the figure at the center of P.J. Hairston's troubles, Fats Thomas, doesn't help matters.
When we do see McDonald again, expect to be vexed by the most frustrating part of his game. His three-point shooting percentage is decent (35.9% last year) but his shooting inside the arc isn't any better (35.4%). In three years on the court he's never broken 40% inside the arc, and that hasn't stopped him from shooting about 1 out of every four trips down the court. Read his Carolina bio and two things stand out — "key three-point shot" and "strong defense." The former will be key, especially with Hairston missing much of the fall schedule. J.P. Tokoto rarely shoots threes, and although Marcus Paige developed a good outside shot by the end of his freshman year he also has the obligations of the point guard position to keep him from shooting too much.
Still, McDonald's effectiveness has always been blunted by the one-dimensionality of his offense. It's rare to see significant strides between the junior and senior year, even without the offseason distractions, so I wouldn't expect that to change. His defense is where he can contribute the most, I think. At 6'5" McDonald has the reach to really stymie opposing guards, and although he's never had the turnover generating rate of some of his teammates, he can solidly lockdown an opponent. UNC will be thin in the backcourt for at least the first half of the season, to the point they're experimenting with moving Paige to the shooting guard position whir Nate Britt runs the point; this is the only conceivable lineup that could cut into McDonald's playing time early.
McDonald definitely has the opportunity to lead this team, both by seniority and example. He's had to fight for playing time his entire career, and he earned his first-off-the-bench position last season. Now he can net himself the starting job — al he has to do is elevate his play to match. Otherwise, he'l close out his career as he began it, just outside the group that seriously contributes.