It was just a step-back move. Leslie McDonald had probably done this move hundreds, thousands of times before, some successful, some not successful — but none like this.
McDonald, a North Carolina junior-to-be who led the team with 38 percent three-point shooting in 15.7 minutes per game, tore his ACL when his knee buckled during a play in a Greater NC Pro-Am summer league game and could miss the season. Surgery has not been scheduled.
It’s an unfortunate, unforeseeable and unpreventable injury. The type that makes it so hard to accept that this is the reason he’s missing a season. Missing games because of breaking team rules, temporary sickness, poor play, ineligibility — those suck, but these injuries suck the worst.
“I just hate it for him,” his high school coach told CBSSports.com.
“I just hate this for Leslie and his family,” his college coach, Roy Williams, said in the school’s release.
The timing of the injury compounds the emotion, too. Suffering an injury during season competition, for some reason, is easier to stomach. It seems more legitimate, even though this rationale is kind of perverse. Sustained in a summer league game, though, is more painful. Maybe it’s the fact that he didn’t have to be playing on that day, for that team, at that time, against that defender.
And it has to be the type of thing that coaches have nagging the back of their brain all summer. Players are going to be playing no matter what. If Marquis Teague happened to come down wrong following a layup, there’s really nothing anyone could have done to stop it. And while shutting the players down completely might be feasible, it would also be counterproductive. Coaches can control what their players do, to varying degrees, but there’s really only so much preventative measures one can take.
John Calipari, for example, seems to be hesitant to let players participate in outside-the-team games. None of the players in his previous two years have done summer leagues (including Team USA this year). They stick to Joe Craft practice and pick-up games. The Bluff City Classic, a Memphis summer league, had been going on since the mid-80s before going inactive for seven years during Calipari’s tenure. It wasn’t solely because of Calipari — there were some financial difficulties — but it’s also telling that the year after he left for UK, the Bluff returned. This year, every single Memphis player is playing once a week in a community college gym with community college players taking their best shots at them. As Pastner said, they will be playing somewhere anyway, so why place restrictions? Neither coach is right. It’s just two ways of doing it.
And no matter how coaches do it, there’s no guarantees of preventing something like it. They just have to wait out the summer, hoping nothing goes wrong when there is so little left before the season can actually begin.