UNC Basketball: Leslie McDonald Crucial to Tar Heels' Early-Season Success

Dhiren MahibanFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 24:  Leslie McDonald

Leslie McDonald has been given an opportunity, and now it’s time for the UNC senior to step up.

On a team stocked with three freshmen and four sophomore players, McDonald is the elder statesman on the Tar Heels squad, the oldest of four seniors on the team.

As a result, McDonald will be expected to provide leadership to Roy Williams’ squad.

Last Wednesday, McDonald took to his Twitter account, and made a statement that shows this leadership and maturity:

It’s exactly the kind of thing the Tar Heels need to be hearing from McDonald.

Now he needs to find his form on the court, which he displayed three years ago.

McDonald has proven to be one of the best defensive players on the Tar Heels, but he will have to re-gain his form of the 2010-11 season if he expects to flourish this season.

The Memphis native was expected to be a bigger factor in the Tar Heels offense, but an ACL tear during a North Carolina Pro-Am summer league game wiped out his entire 2011-12 season.

When he returned from injury last season, it was clear he was a shadow of his old self. A year later, there are big hopes for McDonald, whose opportunity comes by way of an indefinite suspension to P.J. Hairston. Coach Roy Williams suspended Hairston in July after the junior guard was charged with reckless driving and speeding.

McDonald has just one career start in 100 appearances for UNC, but as the Tar Heels head into the new season, McDonald has left fans with a level of hope for success.

McDonald, 22, has a career average of 7.2 points per game and 2.1 rebounds per game, but in his lone start last season against UAB, he scored a career-high 24 points.

“Just getting into the flow of shooting is key for me,” McDonald told ESPN on Monday, downplaying the situation. “Once you see your shot going in in pre-game and you move around get a little sweat you kind of feel for that game and you see what you’re going to do beforehand.”   

McDonald’s perimeter defence is his biggest contribution, and he's also a steady free-throw shooter, but if he hopes to hang onto a starting role, he’ll have to improve his production from beyond the arc. He was hitting just 35.9 percent from three-point range last season, a drop from the 38.1 percent he was draining prior to the ACL injury.

The Tar Heels entered at No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Coaches' Poll. With a healthy McDonald back in form, they're hoping they can bolster that ranking and make a serious run this season.