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June 8, 2012The 2011-2012 basketball season was a long, strange journey for North Carolina's Leslie McDonald, as he watched his entire junior year snatched out from underneath him when he tore an ACL during the summer at the Greater N.C. Pro Am in Durham.
It's easy for fans and other followers of UNC to say that McDonald had no business whatsoever participating in the Pro Am, and that he has no business competing in the series of glorified pick-up games this summer as well.
But that's not the way McDonald thinks.
Quite to the contrary McDonald, who told reporters earlier this week that he's back to 100 percent approximately 11 months after the injury, says he's looking forward to playing in this year's Pro Am in a few weeks.
"Freak accidents happen," McDonald said Wednesday to TarHeelBlue.com and other journalists. "It could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in a game. It could have happened in practice. I'm not very superstitious about things. The pro-am is not the reason why I hurt myself."
The timing of McDonald's injury---and the fact that by the end of this past season he was healthier than several of his Tar Heel teammates----created a situation where he briefly considered coming back for Carolina's postseason run.
But that wouldn't have been prudent to eliminate an entire season of eligibility just for a couple of games, and there's no guarantee McDonald would have been ready to play.
"There was a little urge for me to come back as quickly as possible, but after talking to guys that had my similar injury, they told me to take my time," he said. "You don't want to take this injury lightly, because it can happen again."
Of course it wasn't easy for McDonald to have to sit there on the bench while watching his teammates win another ACC regular season championship while advancing to the ACC Tournament title game and the Elite Eight, but his infectious smile and 'always positive' personality helped get him through.
"I would try to be that guy that would lift you up if you were having a bad game," he said.
"I was really trying to be an influence on the team, and if that's for me to talk to you, or make you laugh, or dance on the sidelines, I'd do whatever I can to help this team."
All the while, McDonald had to take care of his own problems as well. Such as rehabilitating his knee and getting himself on track to be ready for this season.
"I was just trying to get the motivation to go at it hard and give it your all, because if you give it your all and go at it hard the knee is going to get stronger and stronger, and you're going to be amazed at the things you can overcome," he said.
Through his own personal rehab---which included many of the same steps that good friend and teammate Dexter Strickland is currently or has gone through with his own recovery---McDonald has gained unique perspective and insight that he can pass along.
"The first thing that he (Strickland) has to do is put it in his mindset that he's going to get through it," McDonald said in terms of advice he's passed along. "The surgery isn't the worst pain. The worst pain is getting through with rehab and going through it every day and going through it hard."
Looking ahead to his upcoming junior season---McDonald was granted a medical redshirt last season, which would have been his junior year---he has regained his confidence. No doubt about that.
He told reporters that he was the best shooter on the ballclub, and he feels the returning players know what's expected of them.
Even if they may not be as talented as last year's squad, they know they're capable of big things.
"We went through so much adversity that we know what's the Carolina Way, and what people expect of us," he said. "I think it's going to get better as the freshmen arrive (and learn the system),"
McDonald has a good chance of competing for the starting position at the 'two' guard, where he'll likely challenge with Reggie Bullock.
Although we won't be on the sidelines to conduct the pregame 'Jump Around' dance at the Smith Center for home games if he cracks the starting lineup, McDonald was sure to point out that the dancing won't stop for him.
By the time this coming season rolls around, with everything he's gone through over the past year he'll have ample reason to dance.
And if he can make shots and play at the level he's capable of playing, he may give his UNC teammates some opportunities to dance as well.
"My dance moves have never left me," he joked. "You probably won't see as much as you did last year, but it's never left me."