CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- When North Carolina’s Leslie McDonald walked onto the court for his first career start Saturday night and noticed no gyrations in front of the bench, he thought about doing the pre-tip “Jump Around” dance near mid-court.
But instead, the junior guard -- who took over the sideline ritual from former star wing Danny Green a few years back -- concentrated on entertaining the Smith Center crowd in other ways.
McDonald poured in a career-high 24 points during UNC’s 102-84 win over UAB, shooting 7-for-11 from the field and knocking down five 3-pointers. That followed a then-career-high 21 points on Nov. 19 in UNC’s win over Mississippi State in the Maui Invitational.
He’s now averaging 9.9 points and making 50 percent of his shots from 3-point land for the year. It marks a happy return for a player who had to redshirt last season after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament during a 2011 summer league game.
“I’m just glad to be playing," McDonald said Saturday. “I never expected that I would be playing like this, last season.”
Indeed, it was a long 2011-12 rehab for the 6-foot-5 shooter from Memphis, who was able to practice with the team, but whose contribution during games was limited to getting the crowd revved by grooving to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” (although some fans had fun judging how his knee was progressing, based on each game’s new dance moves).
Saturday though, McDonald looked healthy, confident and accurate. In the starting lineup for the first time because point guard Marcus Paige was sidelined with a jammed shoulder, and starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland slid over to be the primary ballhandler, McDonald scored six points in the first half. Then, with UNC trailing by two points with 19:07 left, McDonald assisted forward James Michael McAdoo on two buckets before making a field goal, himself, to give the Tar Heels a six-point cushion.
McDonald’s 3 with 14:38 left pushed the Tar Heels' lead to 11 points, and his swishes the rest of the way helped UNC account for a blistering offensive half in which they shot 71.9 percent.
“Any time a shooter shoots a shot and it goes in, that’s a gratitude, and it builds on his confidence,’’ said McDonald, who also finished with five assists and three rebounds in 26 minutes. “… Making my first 3 coming into the second half, it built up my confidence. And I hit another one. And it felt good.”
As for the pre-tip "Jump Around," McDonald will likely return to it once the usual starting lineup is healthy again. But he plans to have a chat with some of his younger teammates, in case he -- and they -- need to perform from the get-go again.
“I tried to pass it down,” he said, adding that he thought freshmen Brice Johnson or J.P. Tokoto would be the next dancers in line, “but a lot of the guys are shy on the team. I told them,’ You can’t be shy, just express to the world how you feel.’ I was going to do it on the court, but I was like, ‘Nah.’”