by Megan Walsh, UNC Athletic Communications
After ACL tears sidelined Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland last season, both UNC guards are anxiously waiting to get back to where they belong.
Swapping full suits and the sidelines in for Carolina Blue jerseys and a spot on the Smith Center floor, McDonald and Strickland are prepared to make an impact in their return to UNC basketball.
"I'm going to have so many emotions (in my first game back)," McDonald said. "I'm going to be happy, nervous, excited. There are going to be so many emotions going through my body that I really can't express what is going to be the predominant one."
While McDonald sat out for the entire year following an ACL tear sustained in the summer of 2011 at the N.C. Pro-Am, Strickland went down in the middle of a highly anticipated season at Virginia Tech on January 19th this year.
Though sitting out from the game they love certainly wasn't easy, being away from the court gave both guards a unique perspective they plan to incorporate into their play this year.
"I learned more sitting and watching than when I was playing," Strickland said. "Seeing what coach wants and why he's yelling at us and seeing how hard-headed we are on the court - it was good for me."
McDonald and Strickland stayed tuned into the team by attending every practice, game and team gathering while rehabbing their respective injuries. Teammate Reggie Bullock added that both players stayed leaders by constantly encouraging their teammates.
"Leslie was telling the shooters to keep shooting," Bullock said. "Strick was telling the wings to push the ball in transition, telling us what we needed to do on defense, how we needed to guard a certain player. So they both were coaches on the sidelines."
While Strickland is still rehabbing his knee each day, he said he is 96 percent back to where he was before the injury. He expects to be 100 percent in another week or two but would still be ready to go if the Tar Heels played a game tomorrow.
Meanwhile, McDonald has been fully healed shortly after last season and said he is completely "the old Leslie."
And that's exactly what coach Roy Williams expects from the pair. Williams said they must be ready to play and be successful. Still, North Carolina's coach has his reservations about his guards' return.
"Anytime you're coming off an ACL injury where you sit out a whole year - or like Dexter that you're just barely getting ready to play - you have to be concerned about that," Williams said.
For Strickland, Williams is focused on getting past the Rahway, N.J., native past limitations in practice as he finishes healing. McDonald's test will be his progression from being just a true shooter.
"What we have to do is make it a more consistent thing as opposed to a streak shooter, and what I'm going to tell him is that he's got to give me a reason to keep him in the game," Williams said of McDonald. "Dexter gives you several reasons to keep him in the game - there's penetration or his defense."
So, McDonald and Strickland will return to practice armed with hefty to-do lists. But both couldn't be happier to be at that practice in their rightful places: on the floor with their teammates and ready to play.
"The team has welcomed us with open arms," McDonald said. "They're glad we're back. They said they've missed us. It brings a smile to my face knowing that somebody - your team and your family - misses you really bad."