Lucas: Impact Of McDonald's Return
The NCAA announced in a release this afternoon that Leslie McDonald has been cleared to play immediately. A statement released by the school contains the following quotes:
Roy Williams: "We are certainly glad to have this issue resolved for Leslie. It has been a terrible time for Leslie and his family and our basketball team. I was very disappointed by Leslie's actions and he knows this. He has suffered the consequences of his actions and I hope he has learned a lesson that I also hope his teammates recognize. Leslie has been a sensational teammate and worked hard in practice to help our team. He understands what he has already lost and wants to really enjoy this second chance. Leslie has one more semester to contribute to our team and finish his degree. I feel sure he will be truly dedicated to accomplishing both of those goals."
McDonald: "I feel blessed to play again for Carolina. I truly regret putting my family, UNC and my teammates and coaches through this. I apologize to everyone who cares about the University of North Carolina and will do what I can to make up for it. You never know how much you love to play the game until you are not allowed to. I learned that two years ago when I hurt my knee and had to sit out an entire season. I hated going through it again, but it was a result of the mistakes I made. I am going to enjoy every minute of this second chance and play as hard as I can to help my teammates and coaches as they have helped me."
Bubba Cunningham: "Eligibility issues are some of the most important ones we face in college athletics because they directly impact so many people. These issues have had an effect on not only Leslie, but his coaches, teammates and everyone who supports our program. He made some mistakes and faced serious consequences as a result, but I am glad for Leslie that he is able to return. We all must learn from these situations and avoid the kind of problems that could jeopardize eligibility and our program's success."
The bottom line is that Williams suddenly has another wing player at his disposal when the Tar Heels take on Texas at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
A few thoughts on what his addition to the rotation might mean:
1. It will be fascinating to see how much McDonald plays tonight. Between exams and the short notice on the decision, Williams hasn't exactly had time to work McDonald back into the rotation in practice. As the head coach has said all along, he moved McDonald and P.J. Hairston to the blue (reserves) team in practice once games began. That's where they've stayed, and it's very difficult to suddenly adjust a rotation on the fly and throw, say, 20 minutes to McDonald with a few hours notice.
2. McDonald addresses a major Tar Heel need. He instantly becomes the second-most dangerous Carolina three-point shooter on the floor at any time. The book on Carolina going into conference play was going to be to zone them until they shoot you out of it. McDonald, with his career 34.2% mark from the thre-point line and 35.9% last year, will help against that defense if he can reliably hit perimeter shots with some consistency.
It also turns the Carolina bench into a major strength. With Brice Johnson already providing plenty of offense (he's the team's third-leading scorer), bringing in McDonald as a reserve gives Williams two players capable of putting up a handful of points in a short amount of time.
3. McDonald's return will be felt in several places in the UNC rotation. The need for James Michael McAdoo at the small forward position, for example, is instantly lessened. Carolina's three-man backcourt rotation of Paige, Nate Britt and J.P. Tokoto now has a fourth player involved, lessening the minutes for all three of those individuals, which will pay major dividends in February and March. Paige was averaging 35.6 minutes per game through nine contests and was on the floor for all but nine minutes against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky.
4. Either version would be helpful, but if Carolina is getting back the pre-injury McDonald from last year, it's a huge addition. Before he tweaked his knee last year, McDonald was shooting 40.2% from the floor and 36.8% from the three-point line in his first 14 games.
But it's worth remembering that even after his shooting slumped in ACC play, he was quietly turning into a solid defender by the end of last season. Put that with a 2014 team that's already showed some defensive promise, and you've got yet another versatile player (McDonald was great against Virginia Tech's Erick Green last year, for example) who can cause some problems defensively.