If Thursday's potentially season-ending knee injury to guard Leslie McDonald was a dose of somber news for North Carolina, at least the Tar Heels can take solace in some positive reports about his likely replacements.
Roy Williams told SportingNews.com that Reggie Bullock has been cleared to resume playing pick-up basketball for the first time since the sophomore guard had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee last February. And incoming freshman P.J. Hairston has drawn rave reviews at the North Carolina pro-am for his lights-out outside shooting.
It's critical for North Carolina's national championship hopes that either Bullock or Hairston emerge as capable perimeter shooters because that's the area the Tar Heels will miss McDonald most. McDonald, who suffered a torn ACL in a Pro-Am game Thursday night, was a key player off the bench for North Carolina a year ago, averaging 7.0 points in just 15.7 minutes per game and sinking 51 3-pointers.
"I just hate this for Leslie and his family," coach Roy Williams said in a statement released by the school. "He's worked so hard this off-season and he told me he was really playing well. We'll certainly support him as he works to get back on the floor, but we will miss his play on both ends of the court."
The absence of McDonald certainly will diminish North Carolina's depth at shooting guard, but it also could make it easier for Williams to provide enough playing time to keep the remaining players happy.
Hairston is a McDonald's All-American with an impressive blend of athleticism and outside shooting. Bullock was also a McDonald's All-American the previous year as a result of his lethal 3-point stroke, though he struggled shooting much of last season because his knee injury limited his effectiveness. And don't forget combo guard Dexter Strickland, who emerged as easily North Carolina's top perimeter defender last season.
McDonald is a more proven outside shooter at the collegiate level than any of those three, a skill North Carolina desperately needs to complement Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and a formidable frontcourt. Chances are, however, that between Bullock, Hairston and Strickland, the Tar Heels will be able to replace McDonald's production.