Leonard will enter NBA Draft

by Edward Lewis

Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor
Antonio Zaragoza / Photo Editor

Most people close to the San Diego State men’s basketball team figured the announcement was inevitable.

But it doesn’t make the reality of it any easier for SDSU to deal with.

Star sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard announced on Thursday he would leave SDSU for the 2011 NBA Draft. The school also said in a statement he intends on hiring an agent, effectively ending his Aztec basketball career.

“This is very exciting,” Leonard said in a statement released by the school. “I have been preparing my whole life to play in the NBA and now I will have that chance.”

In his two seasons at SDSU, Leonard scored 990 points and grabbed 716 rebounds. He averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in his career, including a career-high 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds last season.

Most scouts, experts and media members figured it would take only a matter of days after the season for Leonard to declare for the draft. The only hold up was a meeting with head coach Steve Fisher, who explained to Leonard he would likely be a mid-to-late first round pick if he were to come out this season.

“After the Final Four, I met with Kawhi and his family and I presented everything in terms of the information I had,” Fisher said. “They were extremely receptive and at the end of the conversation we reached a decision that he would submit his name for the draft. I am totally supportive of Kawhi, his family and his decision.”

Leonard notched 40 double-doubles in 70 career games at SDSU, which was second in school history behind Michael Cage, who ironically was the only Aztec to ever go in the first round of the NBA Draft (14th overall).

Leonard will likely be the first SDSU men’s basketball player drafted since 2002, when the San Antonio Spurs selected Randy Holcomb in the second round.

“Kawhi is going to be an exceptional NBA player,” Fisher said. “He will always be a San Diego State Aztec. The feeling he has for this University and program and the feeling our fans and community have for him will allow him to be welcomed back with open arms for years to come.”

The news came just days after key assistant coach Justin Hutson left SDSU for a promotion and pay raise at UNLV. The Aztecs will now have to replace four starters and a top assistant coach if they want to make a repeat Sweet 16 run.

But even though next year’s squad will look completely different, Leonard said he will have no problem following his alma mater.

“I will follow every San Diego State basketball game,” Leonard said. “I will stay in touch with all of the players and coaches and look forward to following their future successes.”