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November 11, 2009North Carolina freshman guard Leslie McDonald comes into this year's regular season in position to earn himself playing time while not having to step in and start immediately.
He's getting an opportunity to learn from older teammates such as Marcus Ginyard, Justin Watts, and Will Graves in practice, and as he develops it will be interesting to see just how much of a role he carves out for himself on this year's Tar Heel squad.
"It's going great right now. I'm practicing, working out, conditioning. It's going pretty good right now," said McDonald in his first interview as a UNC player. "It was a smack to the face at first being a freshman, but I'm getting used to it and I'm loving it."
McDonald says he hit a bit of a rut early on in his time in Chapel Hill, but he's adjusting to the speed of college basketball along with the different plays and sets the Tar Heels run.
"We call it 'The Wall.' Just being tough in the college atmosphere as far as conditioning-wise, making sure you're learning all the plays," McDonald said. "It's very new to the freshmen but as you get used to it you just roll with it and it comes along with you."
"The game is played much faster than high school. In high school you can bring the ball up casually, but especially North Carolina, we like to run, so conditioning-wise, running up and down, I had to get used to that," McDonald continued. "Practice has been good, learning as well as conditioning. We try to get up and down the court, learn the plays as much as we can, and routine after routine, being able to shoot free throws and getting everything down pat."
McDonald, who is working at the 'two' or 'shooting guard' position, has the potential to be an excellent outside shooter at the college level, as well as a standout defender.
"I'm seeing myself as more of the 'two.' I play a lot of 'two' in the practice and out in the games," he said. "Even though Coach (Williams) can flip me and (Marcus) Ginyard and Will (Graves) out in the 'two' and the 'three', I see myself playing mostly 'two.'"
An all-around standout, the 6-4, 195-pound McDonald, a native of Memphis, was the No. 16 shooting guard nationally in the Rivals.com Class of 2010 rankings, and the No. 65 overall prospect in the country.
He just needs time to get some game experience under his belt.
"Leslie can shoot it. He's a good spot-up shooter. If you get him the ball in the corner he's going to knock it down," said senior forward Deon Thompson.
"Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland out on the perimeter, these guys are very talented," said Ginyard. "I'm just ready to get these guys on the same page as everybody else and in the flow of the game that we like to play."
"Leslie McDonald was a good defensive player in high school, and I expect him to be a good defensive player now," said UNC head coach Roy Williams.
McDonald admits that Williams has been hard on him at times, but one of the reasons why he chose Williams as his coach and the Tar Heels as his team was to be challenged and groomed for greatness.
"Yeah (Coach gets on me) but it's a 'good hard.' That's what I expect," he said. "National championship---that's by our name and we have a number by our name, so we expect to be the best, so we have to train like the best. We have to go all hard all the time, so I expect that."
Another thing that helped McDonald grow into his new place on the UNC roster was the series of pickup games he played in this summer in the Smith Center with several Tar Heel alums who returned to Chapel Hill.
"If you're playing on the best team, you've got to get thrown out with the dogs, so yeah, once I got here we had to play NBA guys as well as college guys," McDonald said. "It was a great experience for me."
"I learned a lot, especially from the NBA guys, because they told me things I needed to work on and things I was doing good, and I think it really helped me," he added. "Rashad McCants was telling me about the spacing. I had trouble running the lanes, and just spacing. That's the key. I know Coach tells us that a lot, just finding space."
McDonald played eight minutes in his UNC debut, scoring two points and contributing one rebound, one assist, and one blocked shot.
"It was a great experience (Monday night). That was my first college game, so seeing the fans chanting and going out on the court and seeing everybody, it's a blessing to me," he said. "He (Coach Williams) was a little disappointed (with 26 turnovers). I know we're still learning, but at the same time, we can't allow that. 26 turnovers is not allowed, so in practice we're really going to work to try to reduce that."
"The exhibition game really helped me out (as well). That really helped me out, because it was a game, but it wasn't like (the season opener). It was a game to introduce me to everything---the crowd," he added.
McDonald admits that it's still a little intimidating for him to take the court in the Smith Center, but over time that will naturally come a little bit easier for him.
"Sometimes it gets scary out there when you see the crowd and you're shooting free throws and shooting shots. It's not like high school anymore," he said.
All other things aside, McDonald says he's settled in well in Chapel Hill, and considers the town his new home.
"It's a funny thing, because I told my parents now this is my home, and I'm getting used to it. Now when people say, 'Where do you live?' I'm like, 'North Carolina now,'" he said.
"It's more of a community (here in North Carolina)," he added. "Back in Memphis I had friends all over Memphis, but now I have friends in my area, so you can walk down the street and say, 'Hey' to a friend, or go to another dorm. It's all a community, so I'm loving that."
"I'm getting used to it. I'm loving the place, my dorm, and everything in the environment, so I'm making this my new home."