Notebook: Jeremy Hemsley has Kawhi Leonard-like performance in debut

by Ryan Posner, Assistant Sports Editor

Just taking a look at the box score, it’s easy to see that San Diego State men’s basketball freshman point guard Jeremy Hemsley had some kind of game in his debut in the team’s win over Illinois State.

He led the team with 20 points and five assists and grabbed six rebounds, all of this with foul trouble hanging over his head. He ended the game with four fouls.

Just how good of a game was it, though?

The 20 points and five assists were the most by an Aztec freshman starting a season opener since Steve Fisher took over as SDSU’s head coach.

His total of 31 points, rebounds and assists was the most by a freshman in a season opener during the Fisher era. The man who he surpassed in that record is none other than Kawhi Leonard, who had 19 combined points, rebounds and assists in the 2009-10 opener.

That’s not the only parallel Hemsley’s performance had with a Leonard performance.

He is the first Aztec to record at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in a game since Leonard did it on Dec. 9, 2009 (23 points, 18 rebounds and five assists).

“He’s unafraid. In some respects I might say that as a freshman, he might have some peaks and valleys,” head coach Steve Fisher said after the game Friday. “He knows how to play and competes very hard. Those drives that he couldn’t finish the last time (against Cal State San Marcos), he was finishing and making them tonight.”

Pope slow out of the gate

While Hemsley seemed to light the world on fire in his Aztec debut, sophomore forward Malik Pope did not have the same kind of luck in his 2015-16 debut.

Pope was 0-for-4 from the field and managed just one point coming off a free throw. He shot one 3-pointer, but did not convert.

Fisher was happy with the way Pope carried himself after the game, despite the lackluster numbers.

“I watched as Malik came in the locker room and went around and gave everyone (a high-five) and congratulated them. That shows character,” Fisher said. “Obviously he’s got to play better, he’s got to be better than 0-for-4 … he will.”

Looking ahead

The Aztecs got their first win under their belt Friday night, but they have a big matchup looming Monday against No. 20 University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

That means a matchup with Utah’s 7-foot sophomore center Jakob Poetl, who will be a coveted NBA draft prospect come next June.

The man who will most likely be guarding Poetl, senior center Skylar Spencer, played against Poetl last season when the Aztecs beat Utah 53-49.

“I remember he was a really good player,” Spencer said. “He’s big, and he had a real strong presence, so you know, it’s going to be an exciting game and I can’t wait to play against him.”

Monday’s game is set to tip off at 6:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN2.