Leonard Capitalizes on Momentum in Team-leading Sophomore Season
Jan 25, 2017 08:18AM
● By Kevin
Former Lady Dragon guard Kennedy Leonard taking a shot against Stanford. Photo courtesy of Colorado University Athletics.
After a stellar freshman season last year, former Southlake girls basketball player Kennedy Leonard has capitalized on her momentum in the 2016-17 school year. The Colorado Buffalos guard leads the team in points (347), assists (108), and steals (47) in the 19 games the team has played this year.
Leonard was honored by the Pac-12 media in March 2016 for a season in which she ranked fourth in school history for assists in a single season amongst first-year players.
"I think it’s kind of cool because I’m only a sophomore," she said. "It’s weird being a team leader, but at the same time, it’s shown me how to grow up a little bit and interact in certain situations - on the court and off the court. We've been put in uncomfortable positions, but I'm a better teammate ... a better player. I understand what’s going on on the court."
The Buffalos came out swinging in 2016 and started out on a 10-game winning streak, including a big upset over No. 15 Kentucky in November.
"I feel good," Leonard said. "We already have won more games than we did in the total of all last year. That's always a good feeling, knowing with each game we get better."
Since then, Colorado has gone 1-8. Seven of those eight losses were conference contests.
"Right now we’re on a losing streak, and that’s not fun and easy to deal with," she continued. "At the same time, we’ve been through it before. Last year helped a ton with that. We know what it’s like and what we have to do to work at it and get after it again."
Despite the losing streak, Leonard has kept a positive attitude and has tried to project that on her teammates. As she steps into a leadership role, she said she's been trying to be more vocal both on and off the court.
The Buffalos' first loss was to Wyoming, but Leonard counted it as a victory.
"I think at times the Wyoming game can be a big plus for us," she said. "It was our first loss and it put things back into reality for us, which we needed. The conference is really tough. Every night you’re facing a team that could be in the top 25 or has the potential to be in it ... It’s all about being able to get through the process of it."
The team is eligible for the conference tournament with just four more wins, and has 10 left to go. Leonard pinpointed the conference tournament as both a team and personal goal. She also hopes to continue making her teammates better by doing all that she can on the court.
The former Dragon has already done that, in part, as she has improved her scoring game significantly from 2015 until now. Leonard averaged 13 points per game her freshman year and is now averaging 18, stepping a bit out of her comfort zone in the process.
"I don’t love to score a lot," she said. "I am big on assists and getting my teammates involved. It’s more uncomfortable but I appreciate the challenge of it and hopefully it keeps getting better."
She attributes a lot of her success to her former coach, Teri Morrison, who still coaches the Lady Dragons. The two frequently keep in touch to this day.
"Kennedy Leonard was an exceptional high school player," Morrison said. "She made the game look easy and the four years she led our Lady Dragons I believed we had a chance to win every game with her on the floor.
"Looking back I feel Kennedy helped me become a better coach. She taught me to trust a player's instincts and helped me see the game through her eyes. I love that her motivation was not for wins but, to help her teammates win. It's fun discussing X's and O's, with Kennedy now. We both have a strong love for the game and she continues to give great advice to help our Dragon Program. Kennedy is a special person and consider her part of my family."
There's a mental side to Leonard's game, as well, that she believe she has improved upon. If she could go back to her freshman year, she said she would tell herself that everything is going to be OK.
"That was a big thing last year: overthinking things," she said. "As a freshman, you haven’t been through those things before, at this level, with this amount of pressure. I would tell myself if it’s not OK, it’s not the end yet. It will end up OK. Remain knowing that and have faith in that."
Southlake Style: Last time we spoke, you hadn't decided on a major yet. Any traction on that?
Kennedy Leonard: Right now, I think I’m going to declare Communications and a minor in Business and Leadership. I haven’t found anything more interesting yet, so we’ll see.
SS: How were the holidays? Did you get to come home?
Leonard: Yeah. I got to come home Dec. 23-25. It was only three days, but I got to see my family and my puppy. My parents are watching my puppy right now. I got to see ICE! at the Gaylord Texan. I don’t get to come home a ton, so even if it was just three days, I appreciated it to be able to go home.
SS: What's your favorite place to eat when you’re back in Southlake?
Leonard: I have two places I really like. I like Del Frisco's Grille. Their Philly cheesesteak egg rolls are really good. I also like Gloria's Latin Cuisine. I really like their queso. Here, we don’t have really good Tex Mex and Mexican. I like Gloria’s a lot.
SS: What do you miss the most about Southlake, in general?
Leonard: I think just the community. Everybody knows everybody. The pride about living there. You’re from Southlake and that’s a big deal to a lot of people.
SS: Who's your celebrity idol and why?
Leonard: I really like Michael Jordan. He’s the greatest of all time. I’d be awe-struck by him. That’s who I’d go with. I really like his shoes, too, like the collector's ones.
SS: Who's your athletic mentor and why?
Leonard: I would say my high school coach, Teri Morrison. Even now, we still talk every day. She watches all of my games still. I know her more than as a coach. She’s the first one that’s taught me that relationships matter. People matter more than the performance they have on the court. She’s still a huge mentor to me. She comes and watches me and still texts me.
SS: What has been your favorite class at CU and why?
Leonard: NAVR. It’s a naval leadership class. People in ROTC take it. I took it with one of my teammates. It was cool learning about leadership from a naval aspect. It’s so much different from regular leadership. It wasn’t hard like math class. It was basically reading and applying it. That was the class I enjoyed the most, since I don’t really enjoy school too much.
SS: Last thoughts?
Leonard: Shout out to mom and dad and my puppy, Gus!