“The summer’s been really good – really good,” he opened.
The reason for the extra emphasis?
“Because everybody is here,” McDonald replied. “Nobody took the chance to go back home. We have the option to go back home or stay here, but everybody’s here.
“Everybody asked around about who was going home (for the second semester) and everybody said ‘I’m staying here.’
Before you think that’s a swipe directed at someone else, realize that McDonald was not in Chapel Hill for the second summer session a year ago.
He’s referring to the team’s chemistry, a group that he feels so close to that there’s nowhere else he’d rather be -- “We’re brothers … I can’t explain it because I’ve never experienced anything like this” -- but he’s also speaking collectively to the team’s offseason focus, which it hopes will pay dividends this winter, where the loftiest of expectations await.
“We feel like if we’re bonding and doing the same things during the summer, it’s going to contribute to the season,” he said. “The polls and everything saying we’re No. 1, there’s pressure already during the summer and we’re just trying to prepare ourselves for the season.”
McDonald is coming off a sophomore year in which his minutes increased, as did his production as a reserve, but he stressed the need to expand his offensive repertoire and become a more consistent performer. To take that next step, amid a team with a surplus of options on the wing, he must keep putting in work. That’s what summers are for.
“I’ve been working out a lot,” he said. “Before I work with (strength coach) Jonas (Sahration), I shoot some shots and then I come in late at night and shoot."
But perhaps the biggest benefit to an offseason in Chapel Hill is the level of pickup game competition. McDonald noted the presence of such former Tar Heels as Rasheed Wallace, Raymond Felton, Shammond Williams, Jackie Manuel, Jawad Williams and David Noel at the Smith Center this summer.
“The NBA guys are so smart," he said. "For us, we’re learning the game but they’ve already learned it and they know what to do. I sometimes matchup with Shammond, or Ray if he’s playing the two; a lot of the time I’ll play against Jackie or Noel. So it’s hard playing against them and that’ll help me in the long run.”