In player introductions, the duo was jointly introduced by host Stuart Scott as “The ACL Boys.”
With a raucous crowd roaring and music blaring over the Smith Center speakers, McDonald and Strickland officially kicked off UNC’s 10th season under head coach Roy Williams.
“It was fun, my first time (in front of a crowd) in a long time,” said McDonald. “I got the bugs out – the jitter bugs - in the beginning. Once I knocked my first shot down it was fun, playing for the crowd.”
Scott didn’t make up the nickname, however. It’s one McDonald said he and Strickland have used as a reminder of their shared injury and the grueling recovery process required to return to the Smith Center floor.
“Why not come out together?” said McDonald. “We worked together and we already feel like we’re brothers. Coming out together gave more motivation to the fans that we’re coming back. We’ve always been close, but I think this injury brought us in even closer.”
With a six-month head start on recovery, McDonald said he encouraged Strickland during his rehabilitation.
“First, I went down and then seeing him go down, I had to learn things on my own,” said McDonald. “Then just taking it in stride, telling him the background information about what to do and how to do it. He took my advice – I was glad he took my advice. It looks like he’s coming on strong.”
McDonald had five points in the brief scrimmage. Strickland took part in the dance routines but not the scrimmage. UNC confirmed Strickland sat out for precautionary reasons and will participate in practice on Saturday.
“For me, I took a year off so just being able to hear coach yell at us and run up down the court, practicing plays we’re going to play in the game – it feels good,” McDonald said.
He singled out the play of freshmen Brice Johnson (6 points and 8 rebounds), Marcus Paige (7 points) and Joel James (6 points) as most impressive during the scrimmage.
“Brice’s an athlete and he’ll go around the rim and dunk everything,” McDonald said. “He’s very athletic. (Joel) is a big body… bangs… has that hook shot. But he can knock down a 12-footer or 5-foot in, any type around the basket he can knock that shot in.
“(Marcus) is a floor general. He’s not only a floor general, he can pass but he can also be an offensive threat. He’s a very impressive point guard.”
With the crowds gone and the music down, UNC will begin the grind of preseason practice starting Saturday morning. McDonald expects his teammates to be ready.
“(You have to) get your mind right,” he said. “We know that this is just interacting with the crowd. Tomorrow is the big show. We have to come out even harder than this. You see us diving on the floor, wait until tomorrow. You’re going to see everyone diving.”