First Look: Leo Criswell

Even though recruiting efforts for the class of 2004 are still in full swing, it isn't too early for fans to start thinking about the next batch of KU interests. It just so happens, that one player who has already drawn interest from the Kansas staff lives within a half an hour of campus and is sure to be a fairly regular visitor over the next year or so.

Enter 6-9 combo forward Leo Criswell who recently started his junior year at Kansas City (KS) Piper High School. Relatively unknown around the city, much less the nation, after receiving scant time on the varsity squad at Kansas City (KS) Washington as a skinny 6-6 sophomore, Criswell began to make noise last spring.

After transferring to Piper near the end of the school year, his height and game blossomed as he starred for the KC Pump ‘N Run 16U squad coached by former Kansas player Roger Morningstar. After garnering MVP honors at the Jayhawk Invitational and putting together solid performances at the Bob Gibbons Tourney Champions, ABCD Camp, Las Vegas Big Time and several other events, Criswell is officially on the national map.

We caught up with Criswell over the weekend at Midwest Basketball Showcase and the names of schools showing interest just rolled off of his tongue.

Arizona, Florida, Stanford, Kansas, Marquette, Ole Miss, UNC, Georgetown and others,” said Criswell.

In fact, late last week Marquette head man Tom Crean was in town to watch Criswell and Kansas City (MO) O’Hara star Marcus Walker in an open gym. More coaches are slated to stop by and take a look, but he is familiar with the local school.

“It (Kansas) is a nice place to go because I could stay home and be close to family.”

However, he also wants to see how things are going to change under new coach Bill Self.

“Most of the time when I have watched Roy was there, now that he’s not there I know things are going to change and I want to see how.”

On the court Criswell is a raw but terribly promising player who projects as perhaps one of the top 50, or better, players in his class. A truly gifted passer for his age and size he possesses a rare combination of size to bang down low and legitimate ball handling, shooting and passing skills from the perimeter. In other words, when he ventures outside of the paint, he can do some serious damage.

“I consider myself to be real versatile. Whatever I need to do or whatever the coach needs me to do, I’ll work on it and get it done,” said Criswell. “My being tall and being able to use the dribble to get past people, is my biggest strength.”

L.J. Goolsby -- a former Kansas schoolboy hoops star who played at Ole Miss and Wichita State -- will coach Leo next summer when he moves up to the KC Pump and Run 17 year old team and he sees a lot of promise in Criswell.

“I think that the sky is the limit for Leo. He handles the ball so well and makes unbelievable passes for a big guy. As he continues to work and develop post moves and he plays hard every day, he can play pretty much wherever he wants.”

Goolsby added that Criswell reminds him of one of one of his former players who has moved on to the Pac 10.

“He actually reminds me of Keith (Wooden) a lot. But, he’s a better athlete and he handles the ball a lot better.”

Still so early in the process Criswell isn’t worried about anything but working on his game and learning to play hard every time out. Other than some occasional Playstation 2, he says you can find him on the court and he won’t start worrying too much about his college decision until after he passes the ACT, makes a few visits and has a chance to discuss his options with his mother.

Finally, Criswell is excited about his new school and the opportunities it will provide for him to succeed academically.

“I think it (Piper) is a better place. At Washington, you had like 30 people in a class. At Piper you have like 10 or 15 kids in a class and a better opportunity to learn, plus you are surrounded by a bunch of good people.”


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