Erasto Hatchett takes over this season for Levi Beckwith, and Hatchett, who spent last year as the head coach at Concord (NC) Cannon School, has a challenge ahead of him.
"My challenge is changing the culture," said coach Hatchett. "It's taken up a lot of energy, but I say that in a good way. I enjoy what I'm doing, but I think they are kind of used to doing things one way so I had to alter that. It's been the biggest transition for me.
"I've noticed we're talented but there's a lack of discipline. We have a high ceiling with a lot of potential, and I don't think we've tapped into what we can be."
"The transition to coach Hatchett has been good," said Leslie. "It's been a change, not just in the style of coaching but around [Word of God]. It's been good for us.
"We have everybody coming back except for John [Wall] so we should have a shot at winning it."
Hatchett inherits a roster which features a trio of high-major Division I prospects. Junior guards Bishop Daniels and Dezmine Wells already hold scholarship offers, but the top talent is Leslie. A top-25 prospect in the 2010 class, the senior has impressed his new head coach in a number of ways.
"C.J. is a phenomenal athlete, but more so than that he's a good kid," said coach Hatchett. "He's really been a pleasant surprise. I heard a lot about him and had never spent a lot of time with him at all, but his personality, his attitude, and the way he conducts himself around the other kids is really second to none. I just want to dispel some of the negative rumors and comments that have been made.
"C.J. has been a kid given a lot without working for it. I'm trying to bring the most out of C.J. and that's been fun. It's been challenging, but he's stepped up. He's been a leader, and he's been a great asset for me and my transition. He enjoys being coached, regardless of how it looks sometimes. He wants to be coached, and he wants to be great."
Basketball recruiting is in full swing right now as coaches are out evaluating prospects during open gym and individual workouts. Florida, Kentucky, NC State, Georgetown, Maryland, and Florida International among others have been on Word of God's campus to express their interest in Leslie.
"It's been crazy with coaches coming to the high school," said Leslie. "Having a guy like Isiah Thomas come by... that was definitely big. I'm a fan of his. To see him come and talk to me, face-to-face... he came to my house. That was a great experience. He's a legend of the game."
"Coaches say C.J. is a freak of nature," added coach Hatchett. "It's been a mind-blowing experience for coaches who have come in and watched him work out. They say they knew he was good but didn't know he could do what all he can do. They didn't know he could handle the ball and shoot it like he can.
"I had one coach in the other day, and he said, by far, C.J. is the best player in the country. He's seen them all. He's watched them and studied them. With what all C.J. can do... he might not do some things as well as other guys can, but overall he was the best player in the country... I also believe that."
What makes Leslie so coveted is his elite athleticism and versatility. At 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds he is capable of scoring in the post but has the ballhandling ability to create shots for himself and others while also knocking down shots from outside. With long arms and quick feet, he contests all shots in the paint and can defend smaller players on the perimeter, as he proved at the recent Elite 80 Showcase when he was matched up with fellow five-star prospect Reggie Bullock.
"Most college coaches tell me that they don't see me playing only one position," Leslie stated. "They say I can play the one, two, three or four... the five, they think I could play that in a pinch. They really haven't said just one position. I think maybe the two or three, but it depends. Different coaches say different things."
Leslie is enjoying the recruiting process. He made a commitment to NC State two years ago but in March he felt like he wanted to re-evaluate his options and backed off that commitment. Recently he's shied away from doing recruiting interviews and has been hesitant to name a leader since opening things back up. Leslie is asked daily where he will play his college ball. Do the constant questions bother him?
"It's something people do," he said. "I don't really get frustrated with it. It's just... I don't mind talking to people. I'm a people person. It really doesn't matter to me that everyone wants to know where I'm going.
"What I like about recruiting is I know that I can pretty much choose the college I want to go to. That's the good thing about it... knowing that a lot of people want you."
Leslie maintains that he is wide open with no favorites and didn't want to give a full list. However, he has a visit set and has even opened back up his timetable after previously stating he could decide in the spring.
"It doesn't matter when I decide," said Leslie. "It could be anytime. Right now I'm still wide open with no leader.
"I've just got one visit [set] so far and that is with Kentucky. I don't know the date yet, we're looking at a couple of dates. That will be an official though."
Another program that remains on Leslie's list is NC State. He's made a couple of recent visits to talk with head coach Sidney Lowe and Leslie is still seriously considering the hometown school.
"State has definitely picked up the recruitment," he said. "They are coming after me hard... harder than ever. State's definitely a school on my list. They are in the mix. I've been over there a few times talking with coach Lowe about State so you know... we'll see."
The Wolfpack has some strong connections in Leslie's recruitment. Because he originally committed to them he has been around the program for a couple of years, and Word of God head coach Erasto Hatchett is NC State commitment Ryan Harrow's brother-in-law. Harrow had a chance to play with Leslie for the first time over the weekend during the Elite 80 Showcase, and the two are becoming good friends.
"Ryan is definitely trying to get me there with him," said Leslie. "Ryan is my boy... it's been good playing with him. He's a flashy point guard that knows the game... he's very smooth."
Although Leslie isn't ready to name a leader, give a list of schools, or even establish a timeframe for reaching a decision, he knows what he will be looking for when the time comes to sign his letter of intent.
"Basically for me I'm looking at style of play and developing a relationship with the coach," said Leslie. "I want to go to a school that has players that can do a little bit of everything. I want to be surrounded by really good players too."
Soph. Film - GSK: #5 C.J. Leslie -- WOG vs. DeMatha -
Soph. Film - GSK: #5 C.J. Leslie -- WOG vs. Taft -
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