Leonard Enjoys Weekend Trip

Former Mountaineer sniper Chris Leonard handled pressure situations with apparent ease during his four-year Mountaineer career, but he admitted to a few butterflies during his return to the WVU Coliseum last weekend.

Leonard was one of the 90-some former Mountaineer basketball players and coaches who descended on the University city for a reunion, and while he had a great time connecting and reconnecting with other alums, he noted that he had a few jitters when he walked out for a group photo prior to the game.

"I don't remember it being this big," Leonard said with a touch of humor. "I was nervous today and I'm not even going to play. The kids that are playing today in this atmosphere – everything is so much more hyped up. That's a great thing, but it's a lot of pressure on the kids."

Leonard knows about pressure, having faced plenty of it during a stellar four-year career in gold and blue. He handled it well enough to tally 1,235 points, many of which came on the strength of his 3-point shooting. He made an even 200 bombs from 1989-92, converting on 41.7% of his attempts from long range. He made eight in a single game against Marshall, which was the record for 16 years before Alex Ruoff canned nine against Radford in 2008. He started 59 games for head coach Gale Catlett, and noted that even in the early days of the 3-point shot, he had the green light to fire away.

"It was really only Kentucky that was using it as a full blown weapon," he said of the development of the shot . "We did it a little bit, but we were still an inside out team. Now there's more outside in, and WVU plays a four out perimeter game, and it seems like that's what everybody is doing now. But even back then, when I shot a lot from the outside, we were still an inside-oriented team.

"When I was a sophomore, we played in a tournament in Miami, I was still trying to find my role, and I played about four minutes and I didn't shoot. When I came out, [Catlett] told me 'I've got a lot of guys on the bench who can play defense a lot better than you can. I put you in the game to shoot it.' From that point on he never had to tell me that again, and he never told me to stop shooting. "

Shoot it he did, and extremely well. As a senior, he knocked down an eye-popping 45.9% of his long-distance tries, and made nearly half of his 404 career field goals from beyond the arc. He helped the Mountaineers to a pair of NCAA appearances, and still stands 24th on WVU's career scoring list. Even with that impressive resume, though, he was very excited about the chance to meet past Mountaineers during his return to campus.

"Getting to go to the Notre Dame game is awesome, but the social we had Friday and the dinner we are going to have is great," he said of the highlights of the weekend. "It's really grown, and it's awesome to be able to maintain connections with former teammates and with the University, especially guys that played 10-15 years before I did. We get their perspectives on what they saw when they watched us play, and in turn we give ours on the guys that came after us. You really don't realize that everybody is aware of everybody else, and sometimes you lose that because you only connect with the guys you played with. But it really is a family that spans the decades, and coming back lets you appreciate it even more."

Leonard doesn't have any regrets about his career, but he admits that he would have liked to see what he could have accomplished with some of the training and conditioning programs available to players today.

"We ate hot dogs before the game," Leonard said with a laugh. "That was considered o.k. at the time, but we didn't have the best nutrition. And now I see the kids, and they are chiseled. There's no fat on them. I'd like to have seen what we could have done with a full blown program like that. You have year round training now, weight programs, nutrition programs. A couple of the guys from the 50s and 60s were talking about that, too. They said they didn't think they could have played today, but we pointed out they didn't have any of those support systems. It would have been interesting to see."

Leonard can still hit the three, but he's doing it with a women's basketball these days. He coaches his daughters and is a busy participant in their basketball travel teams, and as a result has left his playing days behind.

" I stopped playing when they started in the travel basketball circuit, but that was probably good, My mind was telling me to do things my body couldn't do anymore, but that gave me an excuse to stop. I want to to watch my girls play, and there's a lot of joy in that."


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