Hoops: Leonard Was Impressed With OSU

Attempting to track the recruitment of shooting guard Damien Leonard has not been easy but earlier this week we were able to visit with his AAU coach Willis Holliday about the 6-5, 190-pound standout from Greenville (J.L. Mann High), S.C. Read about Leonard's trip to Oklahoma State earlier this month and much more from Holliday in this GoPokes.com exclusive.

Leonard is listed as being 6-4 and weighing 170 pounds but those measurements are from several years ago, and Holliday says he is now 6-5 and "pushing 6-6" and weighs about 190. He averaged 21 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3 assists as a junior in leading J.L. Mann High School to a 20-7 record and the third round of the South Carolina state playoffs.

Leonard is currently ranked as the 51st-best overall prospect in the Class of 2011 and the nation's 15th-best shooting guard, according to Scout.com's recruiting editor Dave Telep.

Leonard and Holliday made an unofficial visit earlier in June to Oklahoma State, one of five schools that are still on the standout shooting guard's short list.

How was Damien's visit was to Oklahoma State?
Holiday: It went great. It's a very impressive place out there. Very impressive.

What impressed the two of you the most?
Holliday: The facilities. There's no doubt they are probably the best facilities we've seen in the country. Facility-wise, Oklahoma State is probably the best that I've ever seen.

Was the quality of the facilities something that surprised Damien?
Holliday: It didn't surprise us because they have a lot of support. What we're looking for is a good basketball school and we knew that Oklahoma State has the tradition of great basketball. They've had some of the best coaches back in the days, and that's what we're looking for, a school that puts basketball among the upper sports. It is a basketball school.

Was Damien as impressed as you were with Oklahoma State?
Holliday: Damien was very impressed. Very impressed. He feels very comfortable with Oklahoma State. We've visited out west before to Arizona, and we were very impressed with Arizona, and we were very impressed with Oklahoma State.

Did Damien get to spend some time with Travis Ford and his staff?
Holliday: He was very impressed with Travis Ford. You can have great facilities and not have a great coach, but when you look at Travis Ford, who is absolutely amazing as well, and he wants to get Oklahoma State back to where they have been, and that means a lot.

So where is Damien in the recruiting process?
Holliday: We still have not made any final decisions yet. Damien still has his top five schools but the trip out there no doubt helped Oklahoma State a lot because they moved up in Damien's mind a lot.

It has been reported that Damien has narrowed his list to five schools – Oklahoma State, Arizona, South Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Does Damien plan to trim that list any further?
Holliday: By the middle of July or late July we'll narrow it down to the final three that he wants, and that's what we're looking at now. I would not be surprised if Damien hasn't already narrowed it down to his top three.

Do you believe Oklahoma State will be in his top three?
Holliday: I talked to Damien a while yesterday and we're trying to get it down (to a few schools) as quick as possible, so we can move on some official visits. I know when I visited with him he asked if in the next couple of weeks if we could find a time to set up a visit to Oklahoma State. So, he will come back out (to Oklahoma State) and visit officially, so that means a lot there.

What's the timetable for making official visits?
Holliday: I think Damien will make a commitment to a school after school gets started, but his (official) visits are not going to take place until football season (in September). So we'll come back out to watch a football game on our official visit, and then after that we'll be ready to make our final decision.

Is it accurate to say he wants to make a decision and sign in November?
Holliday: He wants it done (before starting his senior year of basketball). Yes, he wants it done.

What are the top priorities that Damien is looking for in a school?
Holliday: He likes tradition. He likes the family atmosphere. He likes to feel that he's part of a team. He wants to be part of a winning tradition. I feel like these last five schools all of them show that, and all of the last five schools on his list have that in common.

Is Damien planning to jump to the NBA after just one or two seasons in college?
Holliday: He's not looking at one-and-done, (and) he's not looking at two-and-done. He's looking at coming in and getting a good education, and if he leaves after one year that will be between Damien and his supporting people, and whoever coaches him. But as far as that, we're looking at the best place for Damien to get his education.

For OSU fans who have never seen him play in person, who would you compare him to?
Holliday: There is no doubt the first player you look at with him being from South Carolina is (Boston Celtics guard) Ray Allen (who played at Hillcrest High School in Dalzell, S.C.). Damien is a little bigger, probably closer to 6-6, than Ray Allen. You can also look at James Anderson from last year (at Oklahoma State). He has moves like that but he probably has more range on his jump shot. He has incredible range but he can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. So if you look at a James Anderson, they're very similar … but I would say a more aggressive James Anderson. We were sitting here in Greenville watching Oklahoma State play against Texas on television (last season), and I turned to Damien and said, ‘Damien, that looks like you running up and down the floor.'

It was pretty apparent that James Anderson's game improved in his two seasons playing for Travis Ford, and he is now poised to be a first-round NBA draft choice. How important is that to Damien?
Holliday: This first thing you look at when a kid is coming in as a freshman is how much has (the coach helped former players) mature, and not just on the basketball court but as a young man. That's what we saw with James Anderson, from his freshman to his junior year. We saw maturity. We saw it both on the court and off the court. We saw his confidence grow on the court. You could tell he was playing in a basketball environment, and you could tell he was coached by a basketball coach. All of those things play a very, very important role. He learned from the best in Travis Ford. There's no doubt in my mind that he knows how to take a player and make them absolutely better.

What type of kid is Damien off the court?
Holliday: Damien is a real good kid. He's an absolutely incredible kid that one could be proud to be associated with.

What role are you playing in this process?
Holliday: I am Damien's life coach, and basketball trainer. I've had Damien since he was 12 years old. Right now I'm not really a life coach or a basketball trainer, I'm more like another parent (to him). For me to be associated with a kid, you've got to have good character and you've got to be wanting the best for yourself. Damien is an absolutely incredible kid. If Oklahoma State is looking for someone to represent the program and to be featured in advertisements, then Damien is the one because he's that type of kid.

Tell me more about what type of kid Damien is off the court?
Holliday: Damien is a Christian kid. One of the first things he asked (the Oklahoma State) coaches was, ‘Now, how far are the churches (from campus)?' That's the type of kid he is. The mom's are usually the ones asking that question but here Damien was asking about the churches.

Has Damien qualified academically?
Holliday: He's good academically. He's proven himself. He's worked real hard in the classroom. He's qualified and done well on the ACT.

Do South Carolina and Clemson have an edge because they are both just a few hours from Greenville??
Holliday: While he was coming up as a young kid he talked about (staying close to home) but all of sudden Damien came to me and said he wanted to look at some basketball-tradition schools. I told him I'd be happy to check into schools that have great coaches and we'll go out west and see what type of interest there is in you. We contacted Sean Miller at Arizona and also contacted Oklahoma State.

So you don't believe distance is going to be a factor in the decision?
Holliday: For me, three hours is three hours whether you're in the air flying (on a plane) or whether you're driving. It doesn't matter, it's still three hours either way.

What else do you think people need to know about Damien?
Holliday: He's a dream come true basketball player. There's no doubt that every team wants a No. 2 or a No. 3 who is a pure shooter but there is not another 6-6 player who is a pure shooter like Damien. There's not one. There's not one. He's a scoring machine, and he doesn't get much credit for it but his defense is incredible. He's an all-around great kid too. There's no drinking, no smoking, no partying … he's just an absolutely good, classy kid.


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