Kawhi Leonard’s jersey sits alone atop the Viejas Arena rafters

Kawhi+Leonard+is+honored+as+the+only+Aztec+to+have+his+jersey+retired+in+the+history+of+SDSU+during+halftime+of+the+Aztecs%27+80-68.+Leonard+shared+this+moment+with+former+SDSU+coach+Steve+Fisher+and+many+other+from+the+Clippers+organization.

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Kawhi Leonard is honored as the only Aztec to have his jersey retired in the history of SDSU during halftime of the Aztecs' 80-68. Leonard shared this moment with former SDSU coach Steve Fisher and many other from the Clippers organization.

by Aaron Tolentino, Sports Editor

At about the 10-minute mark in San Diego State men’s basketball game against Utah State, Kawhi Leonard entered the tunnel on the side of the visitor’s bench.

Leonard entered a Viejas Arena tunnel 31 times on gameday when he was a student-athlete at SDSU from 2009 to 2011.

But the walk on Feb. 1 onto Steve Fisher Court was a much different one.

There were security guards surrounding him and cameramen following him to get a shot as he makes his return into a sold-out Viejas crowd.

Not to mention, the current Clippers forward stood aside his girlfriend Kishele and his 3-year-old daughter Kaliyah.

Were the Aztecs distracted on the court – maybe that attributed to the eight-point deficit and only the third time the team trailed at halftime all season?

SDSU head coach Brian Dutcher said he liked how his players didn’t let the spectacle of Leonard’s presence distract them.

“The mental toughness was not about the opponent, but not getting caught up in this atmosphere and having the ability to focus on the task at hand,” Dutcher said.

While the Aztecs were in the locker room at halftime, the ceremony on the court for Leonard was the center of attention – honoring all his accomplishments both at SDSU and in the NBA.

“It’s a dream come true,” Leonard said in his speech. “Just coming here, I wanted to make a name for myself. I wanted to put San Diego State on the map.”

Indeed, he did.

A lot has changed in Leonard’s life on and off the court since his days on the Mesa.

On the court, Leonard has notched the following accolades:

-Two-time NBA Champion

-Two-time NBA Finals MVP

-Two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year

-Two-time All-NBA First Team

-Four-time NBA All-Star

You can debate if LeBron James, Anthony Davis or a healthy Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry is better.

However, as the reigning Finals MVP, it’s undeniable Leonard is one of the top players in the world today.

Leonard is a winner who has proved it on the collegiate and NBA level.

All he wants to do is win.

Since the Aztecs were in the midst of trying to win a game, Dutcher had only a brief exchange with his former star player.

“Hey, just win,” was all Leonard said to his former coach.

Fitting.

The support on Saturday night proved Leonard is a superstar in this game and a face of a city.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer officially declared Feb. 1 Kawhi Leonard Day.

“Excited to watch SDSU take on Utah State and see an all-time great have his jersey retired,” Faulconer tweeted. “San Diego is so proud of all you’ve accomplished, Kawhi Leonard. Congrats #GoAztecs!’’

Dutcher said Leonard is “gem of our city.”

“In the offseason, he’s here in San Diego because he loves the city,” Dutcher added. “It’s great to see the city embrace him.”

There were appearances from members of the Clippers organization – including coach Doc Rivers, owner Steve Balmer, teammates Paul George, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet.

Leonard, a native of the Inland Empire, served as inspiration for Aztecs junior forward Matt Mitchell.

Mitchell had a game-high 28 points – shot 9-of-14 from the field, 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 24 of his points came in the second half.

“There’s a definitely a significance there – me having a big night on Kawhi’s night. That’s definitely very special,” said Mitchell who is also an Inland Empire native. “I’m happy that I was able to show out tonight.”

Number 15 now sits alone atop the Viejas Arena rafters.

Aaron Tolentino is a senior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter        @atolent2.

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