Leslie Staying Focused

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State commitment C.J. Leslie was perhaps the biggest reason Word of God Academy stayed unbeaten and was able to win the 2007 GSK Holiday Invitational.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward was a matchup problem for every team the Holy Rams faced in the three-game tournament. Leslie averaged 21.3 points per game and led Word of God in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots during the three-game tournament. For his efforts, Leslie was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Always with a smile on his face, Leslie stated that he just wanted to win and silence some critics.

"Winning this tournament is real big," C.J. Leslie told Pack Pride. "It will help us become known nationally because I think we are still an underrated team. I didn't think there was any team out here that could stop us talent-wise. We just had to make sure we played as hard as we could. I think we did that."

Playing hard and staying focused has been the biggest knock on Leslie. Blessed with big-time talent and athleticism, Leslie's focus has drifted at times during games. When plays didn't go his way he would vent his frustrations to other players. When he didn't touch the basketball he would sulk. In a game last month against Mt. Zion, Leslie spent stretches on the bench as he battled his emotions. Following a close victory, he didn't celebrate, instead choosing to head straight to the locker room.

The positive is that Leslie knows his weakness, and he has made a concerted effort to work on correcting the problem.

"It comes from being young," he stated. "I'm just a sophomore... 16. As far as playing hard, that's something I'm learning. My mind was different in some games, and I wasn't having fun. After that game I talked with coach 'Beck' and he said to just have fun with it and play hard. Now my main focus is to play hard and have fun every game.

"As far as playing hard, I just want to keep doing what I've been doing the last five or six games. Stay in the game and keep my head up."

Word of God head coach Levi Beckwith hasn't tolerated Leslie's emotional outbursts and it appears to be paying off. Ever since the Mt. Zion game, Leslie has been playing with more intensity and remained focused throughout the GSK Invitational.

"[C.J.] is one of the top ten sophomores in the country," said coach Beckwith. "[He] can do things 6'8 guys can't do.

"C.J. played well. C.J. has been playing hard the past five or six games. I think the one thing I've been telling C.J., and it has nothing to do with his points, is his work ethic. I think that is the most important thing."

"[C.J.] changed a lot," said Word of God teammate John Wall. "We used to have arguments during the game but after that Mt. Zion game we sat down and talked man-to-man. We just aired everything out and now our chemistry is great. Now we are playing together... two of the best you'll see in North Carolina. It's working well."

Leslie surprised some folks when he gave NC State an early verbal commitment after receiving an offer from the Wolfpack last summer. NC State head coach Sidney Lowe was at the tournament watching him in action.

Because Leslie is so young, expect other teams to continue monitoring his process and extend scholarship offers. He still maintains that he is a solid commitment to NC State.

"I really didn't know [Coach Lowe] was there until the end of the third quarter," said Leslie. "It feels good to have a head coach here watching you play.

"Some teams are still talking. I'm solid with State. I know I'm going there. I feel good about committing. If coaches talk to me then oh well, but I'm just out here trying to have fun."

Leslie's teammate, John Wall, has already been offered a scholarship by NC State, as has AAU team.mate Ryan Kelly. C.J. admitted that he has spoken with Wall about possibly joining him in Raleigh, but he has yet to talk with Kelly

"I haven't had a chance to talk with Ryan yet, but he's a good kid. John... I've been talking to him a lot about it."

Soph. Film - GSK: #5 C.J. Leslie -- WOG vs. DeMatha -

Soph. Film - GSK: #5 C.J. Leslie -- WOG vs. Taft -

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