Hoops Recruiting: Leonard Ready To Decide?

Damien Leonard

Damien Leonard plans to enjoy participating in this week's adidas Nations Global Experience. But when one of the nation's top shooting guards returns to his home in Greenville, S.C., don't be surprised if he waste little time in deciding which of the three finalists – Arizona, Oklahoma State or South Carolina – he elects to sign with in November.

The 6-foot-5, 190-pound Leonard is ranked as the 56st-best overall prospect among the nation's high school basketball players in the Class of 2011 and is the 17th-best shooting guard, according to Scout.com basketball recruiting editor Dave Telep.

Leonard has narrowed his final three schools to Arizona, Oklahoma State and South Carolina and plans to make an official visit to all three this fall, said Willis Holliday, his AAU coach who has played an important role in the teenager's development in recent years.

Holliday said Wednesday night that Leonard's official visits are scheduled for South Carolina on Sept. 11-12 (when the Gamecock football team plays Georgia), Arizona on Sept. 17-18 (when the Wildcats play Iowa), and Oklahoma State the weekend of Oct. 22-23 (for Homecoming against Nebraska).

During the telephone interview with Holliday he stated that Leonard planned to make trips to the three finalists but later said that a decision could be made before the official visits.

"Damien wants it over. He wants it over. He doesn't want it to go much longer," Holliday said. "It's really wearing on him. Everywhere he goes people are asking him about it. The last month or so he can't even go to a restaurant to eat without 25 people approaching him and asking him where he's going to go to school."

Holliday has urged the sharp-shooting guard to take some time to think about the decision.

"I told him a few days ago to take a couple of days to think about it. Get away from me, get away from you mom, get away from your dad, just chill away from basketball, step back and look at the options and think about what he wants to do for the next two or three years in college basketball and getting his degree," said Holliday.

"We have not talked about it since the recruiting period was over (the NCAA-mandated quiet period runs from Aug. 1-Sept. 8). I told him we'd sit down and talk after he gets back from Chicago. He leaves (today) for Chicago (to participate in the adidas Nations Global Experience, website: adidas Nations Global Experience), and when he gets back from that we will sit down.

"He does want to honor all of those visits right now, but if he decides he does not want to go then I will call and cancel those visits. But right now those schools are going to get the opportunity to give their last sales pitch, and there's no doubt that 24 or 48 hours after Damien returns from his last visit he will make a decision. But if he makes a decision before then we will not take the official visits.

"He wants it done, and I work for Damien; Damien doesn't work for me. Damien says he wants to get this over with so there's a possibility that he could make a decision soon," Holliday added.

Holliday admits that there is a lot of pressure on the South Carolina native to stay home and play for the Gamecocks and second-year head coach Darrin Horn.

"There's a lot of pressure for him to stay here. I'll bet there are probably not more than three people (in Greenville, S.C.) aware that Damien is heavily considering Oklahoma State with the University of South Carolina because everybody here is pushing for South Carolina.

"Damien is a good kid and he'll sit back and use this week wisely. He'll go out (to Chicago) and bond with several guys at the adidas Nation. I've been around these young kids and all of them are looking at what took place with LeBron James, D-Wade and Chris Bosh (signing with the Miami Heat), and Shaq going to Boston. All of this stuff plays in these kids minds now. So everybody now doesn't want to go to a team and be just by themselves. When I was in Vegas I heard the kids talking about it and saying, ‘Where are you going? Wouldn't it be great if we all go to such-and-such school.'

"I think this weekend in Chicago is going to be huge for Damien and some of the other kids just because I think it's time now that kids will start grouping up by positions. A point guard will say that he needs a shooter, and that he needs a post player, and then three of them agree to go to such-and-such university," said Holliday.

Holliday gave a brief analysis of what each of Leonard's finalist has to offer.

Arizona: "Sean Miller, the coaching staff, the winning tradition … Sean Miller is absolutely great. The location is nice. The conference they play in is up and down, and we don't know what's going to happen there (with the Pac-10 expansion). Now that they've been hit with the sanctions we're going to have to look at that in detail to see how that is going to affect us."

South Carolina: "It's a local school and they have done an incredible job of recruiting Damien. Darrin Horn has done an incredible job of rebuilding the program, and he has an incredible staff. They have been on Damien since they had an opportunity to do that, and they have not let up yet. They are recruiting him to a family atmosphere. Damien really likes that coaching staff, and really likes those guys a lot."

Oklahoma State: "When we were out at Oklahoma State (this summer on an unofficial visit), it was so funny because Damien said that Oklahoma State reminded him of Greenville, South Carolina, because of the size of the town and the way it's set up. You've got to be impressed with Travis Ford and his ability to recruit. What Travis Ford has done in his short time at Oklahoma State is impressive. He's a hard worker and it shows in the incredible class (of recruits) that he's going to bring in there. The facility is absolutely tremendous. We met several people in the community there and were really impressed.

"Damien can't go wrong with any of those schools," Holliday added.

Although Leonard is ready for the recruiting process to be finished, he's not looking forward to having to make telephone calls to two of his three finalists to give them the news he's selected another college. As a matter of fact, Holliday says he will be the one making those phone calls.

"It's going to be very tough," said Holliday. "Damien and I have talked about that while we were coming back on the airplane from visiting Oklahoma State. We were talking about how difficult it was going to be, and I asked him if he wanted to make those phone calls or if he wanted me to do it. It will be a sad day for two of those schools, but that's the business side of it. I'm going to hate to be the spreader of bad news, but that phone call will come and it will probably come a lot sooner than later. Damien is absolutely tired of the recruiting period.

"Damien wants to please everybody. If he could go to the University of South Carolina for a year, and go to Oklahoma State for a year, and then go to school at Arizona for a year, Damien would do that. But that's not how it works. He has to choose one school."

Will it be Arizona, Oklahoma State or South Carolina? Expect an answer soon.

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