USC Men's Basketball

Damien Leonard transfers to Furman

Damien Leonard
Damien Leonard tglantz@thestate.com

Damien Leonard has returned home.

Leonard starred as a sharpshooting wing at J.L. Mann High before signing with the University of South Carolina. On April 26, after two lackluster seasons in Columbia, Leonard left Carolina.

On Tuesday, he landed about 10 miles from Mann, signing with Furman University.

“We’re excited about that, a local star coming back here. I think it’s a good thing for both him and us,” said Furman coach Niko Medved, who was hired last month.

During his introductory news conference, Medved declared an initiative to revive the Furman brand in the Greenville community. Leonard could enhance that effort.

“Obviously, the biggest reasons we wanted Damien is he’s a good kid and his talent level is something that can really help us,” Medved said. “But you take the other part of it. Obviously, he had star status as a youngster here in Greenville.

“Hopefully, that really helps us ignite some of the local fanbase and draw some local interest from the Greenville community back into our program. That’s why it’s a win-win.”

As a senior at Mann, Leonard averaged 22.4 points per game, shot 42 percent from 3-point range, earned All-State honors for the fourth consecutive season and attracted interest from Arizona, Texas, Clemson, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech.

Leonard started 20 of 31 games as a freshman at USC under then-coach Darrin Horn. Leonard averaged 21 minutes and 6.8 points per game.

This past season, under Frank Martin, Leonard started three of 28 games and averaged 14.8 minutes and 4.0 points.

He shot 31.5 percent from the field, including 29.3 percent from the arc. Carolina managed merely 24 wins through Leonard’s two seasons there.

Martin signed seven players this offseason despite losing only three seniors. Thus, the departure of four Horn holdovers, including Leonard, was expected.

Leonard, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, must sit out a season in compliance with NCAA regulations. He will be eligible for the 2014-15 season and will be classified as a junior with two years of eligibility remaining.

“Making that transition to the elite level of college basketball is a challenge for a lot of players,” Medved said. “Having a year off for Damien is going to allow him to get stronger, to mature, not just physically but mentally, and learn the game and develop different parts of his game.

“His fourth and fifth year at college, if we do it right, I think he really has a chance to blossom here in our program.”

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