I watched him play 3 separate times earlier in the season and each time I came away impressed with his ability to shoot the basketball. Another thing that made Leonard stand out is that while he shoots it well he doesn't have a gunner's mentality putting up ill-advised shots and forcing the issue putting his team's chances at victory on the line.
I asked Leonard about his cool and calm demeanor on the court and he had this to say. "Yeah that's how I try to approach everything I do in general." Having made noise on a national level in the 8th grade we asked him if there was any additional pressure jumping straight to the varsity level. "Not really. I played my game, and it was good enough to play on varsity level."
Averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game this year Leonard has all-state status written all over him. As the season has rolled on teams have been paying more and more attention to the 2011 standout. Leading the Patriots in scoring has made Leonard a marked man whenever he steps on the court as opposing teams are planning their defense usually to focus on slowing him down. He talked about one of his best games of the season as another team had a clear message, "STOP DAMIEN LEONARD!" "My most memorable game this year probably was against Greer, I had 29 points and 7 rebounds. During warm-ups the crowd was saying that I sucked and that they were gonna shut me down. I just smiled and I scored the first 12 points of the game."
Being able to score in spurts and bunches like that is something that Leonard has excelled at this year. "I'd have to say my ability to shoot the three and scoring in bunches is probably my biggest strength right now."
Just a freshman there is room for improvement and one area Leonard says he'd like to work on strenuously this coming offseason will be his defensive abilities.
As discussed earlier many people knock sites like ours that discovers and evaluates players at such a young age. It's ironic because when I asked Damien if he was hearing from any schools this early in his career. We got the answer we were expecting. "Yes sir, I'm already hearing from Wake Forest and Clemson." In fact, Damien made it clear that he would like to hear from any ACC school. One school in particular is the early leader for Leonard. "North Carolina is my favorite." Given his early star status during his career there's a strong chance that he indeed may hear from the Tar Heels and other ACC programs soon along with Wake Forest and Clemson.
This offseason Damien will play on the AAU circuit with the Carolina Cougars. He says his main goal this AAU season will be to get noticed more by colleges and to improve each time he steps out on the court.
Up Close & Personal With...Damien Leonard
Favorite player: Carmelo Anthony because he never forces his shot and I want my game to be like his silky and smooth.
Scout's Take: I took in J.L. Mann's first round playoff game versus Blythewood on Tuesday night. The Patriots won easily but Leonard's shot wasn't falling as it normally does. He didn't force any bad shots but he clearly wasn't feeling it as he has throughout the season. He did encounter a box and one defense via Blythewood and that's something to take into account as only top flight players are honored with that kind of defensive attention.
Leonard is still very young and he should grow and add more muscle to his frame over the next few seasons. I expect him to remain as the #1 prospect in South Carolina for the 2011 class unless someone else blows up next year. He has the talent and upside that he could very well remain in the top 50 or higher nationally as some publications listed him last year as an 8th grader. It will be interesting to chart his progress throughout the rest of the playoffs and to take in some of his AAU tournaments this offseason.
J.L. Mann High School