Alexander: Kawhi Leonard returns in triumph to San Diego State

first_imgPreviousSan Diego State forward Yanni Wetzell (5) srambles for a loose ball with Utah State center Trevin Dorius (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, center right, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, poses with family members and Clippers players, among others, after his No. 15 jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony at San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)San Diego State guard KJ Feagin (10) shoots as Utah State guard Abel Porter (15) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) SoundThe gallery will resume insecondsFormer San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, right, reacts alongside former San Diego State coach Steve Fisher as Leonard’s No 15 jersey is retired during a halftime ceremony in San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, center, looks up as his No. 15 jersey is retired during a halftime ceremony in San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, watches as his No. 15 jersey is retired during a halftime ceremony in San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, reacts during the first half of San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard arrives during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. Leonard’s jersey No. 15 was to be retired at halftime. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)A fan heads to her seat among replica jerseys in honor of former San Diego State basketball player Kawhi Leonard before San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)San Diego State forward Yanni Wetzell (5) srambles for a loose ball with Utah State center Trevin Dorius (32) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, center right, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, poses with family members and Clippers players, among others, after his No. 15 jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony at San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)NextShow Caption1 of 9Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard, center right, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, poses with family members and Clippers players, among others, after his No. 15 jersey was retired during a halftime ceremony at San Diego State’s NCAA college basketball game against Utah State, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)ExpandSAN DIEGO — Even for the home of the No. 4 college basketball team in the country (according to both polls), or the No. 1 team (if you prefer the NCAA’s metrics), this was madness.The students who make up The Show, San Diego State’s rowdy student section, were in their seats an hour before game time, filling up the bulk of four full sections from top to bottom of Viejas Arena. They were there to see the undefeated Aztecs against Utah State, naturally, but the kid who wore a Riverside King High No. 22 jersey and held up the “Board Man Gets Paid” sign probably gave it away.This was Kawhi Leonard’s night at his alma mater. Given where the Aztecs are now, and how they became a destination program for a higher level of recruit after Leonard’s two seasons on Montezuma Mesa, the question isn’t about retiring his jersey – he wore No. 15 as a college player – but what took SDSU so long.Quite likely it was proximity. Those seasons in San Antonio and Toronto made it tough for the Aztecs to coordinate their schedule with the NBA calendar. With Leonard now a Clipper, clearing a date was comparatively simple. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Consider: Before Leonard the Aztecs were 163-40 under Fisher with two NCAA berths and three NIT trips. With Leonard they were 59-12 with two NCAA berths. In the eight-plus seasons since he left, counting the 22-0 record they’d compiled going into Saturday night, they’re 219-81, have reached the NCAAs five times and the NIT once and almost certainly will be playing in mid-March again this year.Also, the Aztecs had one player drafted in Fisher’s first decade as coach, Randy Holcomb as a second-round pick by San Antonio in 2002. After Leonard, the 15th player selected in the 2011 NBA draft, Jamaal Franklin, Xavier Thomas and Jalen McDaniels were second-rounders in 2013, ’14 and ’19, respectively.All of that should provide a sense of what Leonard meant to SDSU. What did SDSU mean to Leonard?“It just shows that hard work paid off,” he said Saturday afternoon. “I was able to reach that goal while I was there, to be able to become a pro.”He elaborated during the ceremony:“Coming here I wanted to make a name for myself,” he said. “I wanted to put San Diego State on the map. I want to thank the coaching staff, Coach Fisher, who recruited me hard. This is why I’m a player today. And a great group of teammates, trusting a freshman to pass me the ball. They wanted me to lead the team.”Leonard’s success is a reminder that recruiting can be incredibly hit or miss. Fisher and the Aztecs were in on him early when bigger programs were dubious about what position best suited him.Related Articles Kristaps Porzingis ruled out as Clippers, Mavericks set for Game 5; Follow for game updates Angels’ Shohei Ohtani spending downtime working in outfield Some of that hesitancy from other people, as current coach (and then assistant) Brian Dutcher recalled, might have involved Leonard’s famously reticent nature.“If you spend the time to build a relationship, you know he’s a quiet kid,” Dutcher said. “You know, if you go in there one time and try to recruit him (and) he doesn’t say anything, you leave and you say, ‘Well, the kid’s not interested in it. He didn’t say anything.’ But if you stick to it, you realize that’s his personality and you embrace it. You just say this is a rare kid that doesn’t boast about his game. He just plays his game. And he likes us. He likes the fact that we were there from the start.“I thought he was gonna be a great player. I called back and told Coach, ‘I think this kid’s got a chance to play in the NBA.’ But nowhere in your wildest dreams do you think he’s going to be the best player in the world.”Leonard committed to San Diego State before his senior year at King … and after he and his team took down a Mater Dei powerhouse in the CIF Southern Section final, Fisher and his staff worried that bigger programs would swoop in. But Leonard honored his commitment.So it made a peculiar sort of sense when that vibrant, raucous SDSU student section erupted in a loud ovation when Leonard walked into the arena 10 minutes into the first half … and then turned unusually quiet, almost as if it were a sacred moment.There was some symmetry this night. Another son of the Inland Empire, Matt Mitchell (Eastvale Roosevelt) led the charge from a 39-31 halftime deficit, scoring 24 of his 28 points in the second half including back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to put SDSU in front to stay.Yes, the idea of having a big night with Leonard on the premises hit home. Leonard’s influence on this program influenced Mitchell during his own recruitment process, after he’d committed to and then decommitted from Cal State Fullerton.“He’s the biggest idol next to Reggie Miller in the Inland Empire,” Mitchell said. “So it’s a great influence for me to come here and be able to show out tonight.”During the halftime ceremony, Fisher gestured toward the full house and said to Leonard: “This is your legacy, my friend. Look around this building.”And then the former coach got to the heart of what makes Kawhi Kawhi, the attribute that his coaching staff had no trouble embracing.“A lot of people talk a good game,” he said. “Kawhi doesn’t talk a good game. He plays a good game.”They saw it here first.center_img LAFC loses reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela to knee injury UCLA football’s Jake Burton enters transfer portal with hopes of playing this fall Leonard put in his workday – 31 points, six rebounds in 23:34 of the Clips’ 118-106 afternoon victory over Minnesota at Staples Center – and then hustled down to San Diego with family, friends, his teammates – every last one of them – and other Clippers staff for a ceremony at halftime of what turned out to be the Aztecs’ 23rd straight victory, 80-68 over the Aggies.Then again, due to recent events, things aren’t that simple any more. Leonard, like the late Kobe Bryant, had taken to using helicopters to bypass Southern California traffic.This time, Leonard took a private plane.“It’s (because of) more people coming with me,” he told Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group in Los Angeles after his game. “Things happened (with helicopters) before that; it’s just so famous because it’s Kobe Bryant. … A lot of my helicopter flights got canceled because of fog, so if it’s a clear day, then maybe yeah, I would take it. Just not at this particular point just because I have people with me.”It’s true that the Aztecs turned from doormat to respectable not too long after Steve Fisher arrived to coach them in 1999. But it was when Leonard arrived on campus in 2010, as a recruit that had been overlooked by the power conference schools until it was too late, that San Diego State took that next step. The Aztecs set a school record for victories (34-3) and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in Leonard’s sophomore year, after which he turned pro. Clippers vs. Mavericks Game 5 playoff updates from NBA beat reporters last_img read more

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

first_imgJake says relationship with Shaina ‘goes beyond physical attraction’ IOC tries to calm Olympic concerns amid North Korea tension The Heat had a strange season a year ago — starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”Sports Related Videospowered by AdSparcRead Next FILE – In this Sept. 17. 2017, file photo, Slovenia’s Goran Dragic lifts the trophy after defeating Serbia in the Eurobasket European Basketball Championship finals in Istanbul. Here’s how Heat guard Goran Dragic spent his summer vacation. He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)MIAMI — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.ADVERTISEMENT DAY6 is for everybody He was the tournament’s MVP . He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head — winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.FEATURED STORIESSPORTSRedemption is sweet for Ginebra, Scottie ThompsonSPORTSMayweather beats Pacquiao, Canelo for ‘Fighter of the Decade’SPORTSFederer blasts lack of communication on Australian Open smog“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heatbegin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating. OSG plea to revoke ABS-CBN franchise ‘a duplicitous move’ – Lacson Mos Burger to open in Manila; teases with a pop-up It’s too early to present Duterte’s ‘legacy’ – Lacson In ‘Jojo Rabbit,’ Comedy and Drama Collide View comments Carpio hits red carpet treatment for China Coast Guard PLAY LIST 02:14Carpio hits red carpet treatment for China Coast Guard02:56NCRPO pledges to donate P3.5 million to victims of Taal eruption00:56Heavy rain brings some relief in Australia02:37Calm moments allow Taal folks some respite03:23Negosyo sa Tagaytay City, bagsak sa pag-aalboroto ng Bulkang Taal01:13Christian Standhardinger wins PBA Best Player award MOST READ How to help the Taal evacuees LATEST STORIES Steam emission over Taal’s main crater ‘steady’ for past 24 hours “He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million.It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, ‘This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.’”The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.ADVERTISEMENT Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. Margot Robbie talks about filming ‘Bombshell’s’ disturbing sexual harassment scenelast_img read more