Could Kawhi Leonard have assumed the torch from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love as the next great Bruin baller?
In a feature by Sam Gardner of FOX Sports that ran on Thursday, Leonard’s high school coach, Tim Sweeney of Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California, said the San Antonio Spurs superstar originally had his sights set on UCLA for college and was “signed, sealed and delivered” to then-head coach Ben Howland. But Sweeney claims that jealousy over Leonard’s standout play in a brief AAU stint with the L.A. Dream Team in 2008 led to his falling out of favor with the more prestigious programs in the area.
“Kawhi outshined Renardo Sidney and everyone on the team,” Sweeney was quoted as saying. “The Sidney group all of a sudden was badmouthing him around everybody, OK? Everybody kind of bought in it, and all these big-time schools — which were probably about eight or 10 of them — dropped off. They literally dropped off the face of the map.”
For what it’s worth, Gardner notes that Steve Fisher, Leonard’s head coach at the university he ultimately wound up attending, San Diego State, as well as Justin Hutson, Leonard’s lead recruiter, were both unaware of the blacklisting of sorts that Sweeney claimed.
Leonard wound up averaging 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in his two seasons at SDSU. At the time, he was largely seen as a raw prospect who mainly specialized on the defensive end, nowhere near the two-way machine he has since blossomed into (as even his current head coach will admit). But given that the Bruins were led by the likes of Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee during that two-year stretch, it’s worth wondering if landing a big fish like Leonard could have bought Howland, who was fired in 2013, some more time and drastically altered the way the UCLA program looks today.