South Carolina may have found a shooter capable of taking the Gamecocks into the upper echelon of the SEC.
J.L. Mann shooting guard Damien Leonard, of Greenville, committed to USC two weeks ago and plans to sign a National Letter of Intent with Darrin Horn’s club next month. Though he’ll likely need to add bulk and strength to his 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame, he could immediately make a difference on the offensive end in Columbia.
“I think the biggest thing he probably adds is the fact that he can shoot the ball so well,” said Mann coach Jeff Craft, a South Carolina graduate. “I’ve watched Carolina for a number of years, and the main thing that I’ve noticed is they don’t have a kid that can get a shot off when he needs to get it off, a consistent 3-point shooter. I think that’s one of the things he really gives them.”
Leonard is a deadly assassin from behind the 3-point arc. He averaged 21 points, 6.5 rebounds and three assists per game last season and is a consensus top-25 shooting guard in the Class of 2011.
Charlotte Christian (N.C.) power forward Anthony Gill, who is 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, is the other commitment the Gamecocks have in this class, but he will fill a much different role than Leonard.
South Carolina benefitted from Clemson’s loss of Oliver Purnell. The Tigers had made an impact on Leonard early in the recruiting process, but Purnell left for DePaul and Leonard began to consider other schools. He chose the Gamecocks over Arizona and Oklahoma State.
“I fit in pretty well,” Leonard said of USC. “Coming from South Carolina and being from there, most of the guys know me. They know my game, so they’ll know where I’m at on the floor. It’s better that I’m playing with them. It’ll be more comfortable.”
Leonard compares himself to NBA veteran Ray Allen. It is easy to see why. Both are accomplished long-range shooters and both are about the same size. However, Leonard believes he’ll need to get stronger and become more consistent defensively to have similar success.
“I think most people know what kind of shooter he is,” Craft said. “He’s a great shooter, but he’s added to his game. He can take the ball to the basket now with authority, he’s a really, really good passer. He sees the floor well. He’s added those elements to his game and is becoming more of a complete player.
“They are never going to have to worry about him getting in trouble or anything like that. He’s just a mild-mannered, family-oriented young man. His teachers and his classmates love him. And, more importantly, they respect him. On the floor, he turns into a different person. He’s competitive and wants to win.”
And he could help USC as early as the 2011-12 season, especially if he’s able to sink his patented jump shots against college competition as frequently as he does against high school foes.
“They really don’t have a terrific shooter, a shooter that’s consistent,” Leonard said of USC. “I feel myself going in there and making an impact right when I get there.”