McDonald tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a N.C. Pro-Am game at N.C. Central on July 14th last summer and underwent surgery to reconstruct the ACL and repair his meniscus on Aug. 3.
“I am 100 percent back and the knee feels fine,” McDonald said on Wednesday. “I have no problems in the knee. I do the same thing that I did in rehab just to make sure that I’m on the right path – I stretch and get in the hot and the cold tub – but as far as feeling any pain in my knee, I have none at all.”
McDonald indicated that his health improved from roughly 75-80 percent when he first returned to limited practice in early January to 85-90 percent during the postseason run in March. He reached the 100 percent mark in late April or early May.
The Memphis, Tenn. native admitted to being hesitant early on about making certain moves and cuts on his knee, but that’s no longer the case.
“I believe that my confidence has come back to me and I have no worries about the knee,” said McDonald, who has two years of eligibility remaining after red-shirting last season.
The legendary pickup games that take place every summer in Chapel Hill have already started, as Tar Heel standouts such as Rasheed Wallace, Shammond Williams and Marvin Williams have returned to town and even more are expected in the coming weeks.
McDonald is also getting plenty of work thanks to a new NCAA rule that allows teams to practice – complete with coaches – for two hours a week for eight weeks during the offseason.
“It's not practice, but it's sort of in a practice form,” McDonald said of the extra sessions. “It's mainly drills of ball handling (for the guards). We split the guards and big men up. As far as the guards, we work on ball handling, shooting, moves to the basket and then at the end of the session we come together for a 4-on-4 scrimmage.
“It's nice because pickup you can only do so much, and you joke around - not saying our pickup games are playful, they are very serious - but there are a lot of things in pickup that you can't do in a formal setting. But now with the new NCAA rule it's more formal and more team oriented - the ball is passed around, we screen, make sure we're in the right spots, and it really helps us prepare for next season."
The scrimmages are limited to 4-on-4 because UNC only has eight scholarship players currently enrolled. The four-man freshman class will join the group once second-session summer school begins on June 20.
McDonald is not limiting his offseason work to practices and pickup games at the Smith Center, however. He intends to participate once again in the N.C. Pro-Am starting in July – the same event where he suffered his ACL injury.
“I do plan to play in the Pro-Am,” McDonald said. “Not as much as I did last summer. But I do expect to play a couple of games. Then again, I won’t play as many as I did last year. And limited minutes. I probably won’t play a whole game.”
The specter of last July's knee buckle at the McLendon-McDougald Gym hasn't lingered in his mind.
“Freak accidents happen,” McDonald said. “It could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in practice, could have happened in a game. Just for me, I’m not very superstitious about things, so the Pro-Am itself is not the reason why I hurt myself. I think the reason why I hurt myself is just because – it was just a freak accident. I can’t blame the Pro-Am on that.”
McDonald noted that he has regained most of his quickness and is now working on becoming more explosive and stronger than he’s ever been before.
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