Leslie not ready to say whether it’s NBA or N.C. State next season

jgiglio@newsobserver.comApril 10, 2012 

— N.C. State and the NBA will have to wait a little longer for a decision from C.J. Leslie.

The Wolfpack’s star forward said Monday he hasn’t made up his mind about where he will play basketball next season — in the ACC or the NBA.

Leslie, who led N.C. State in scoring as a sophomore, said he’s leaning “one way,” but he’s not ready to make a decision about his future, which has been seemingly more nerve-wracking for N.C. State fans than Leslie.

“I’m not stressing about it, whatever I decide to do is going to be whatever I decide to do,” said Leslie, who earned second-team All-ACC honors last season.

The NCAA deadline for underclassmen is 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, but Leslie said his decision could come in the next “week or so.” He added that he would observe the NBA deadline to file for the draft, which is April 29.

Behind a late-season surge led by the improved play of Leslie, the Wolfpack won 24 games in coach Mark Gottfried’s first season -- a first since 1988 -- and reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for only the second time since 1989.

Leslie led the Wolfpack in scoring (14.7 points per game) and blocks (1.6 per game) and ranked second in rebounding (7.3 per game).

Even without Leslie, N.C. State returns three starters and adds three McDonald’s All-Americans, which puts the Wolfpack in position to contend for its first ACC title since 1987.

Gottfried said if Leslie returns, “I think it turns into something great.”

Wolfpack guard Lorenzo Brown, who shared the team’s MVP award with Leslie on Monday at the team’s awards banquet, expects to have Leslie as his teammate next season.

“I think he’s coming back,” Brown said. “He’s trying to say little things to trick us, but I think he’s coming back.”

Both North Carolina (forward Harrison Barnes) and Duke (guard Austin Rivers) already have lost their leading scorers — and both underclassmen — early to the draft. UNC guard Kendall Marshall and forward John Henson joined Barnes in the draft. Duke forward Mason Plumlee is also considering entering the draft but has not hired an agent and has not ruled out returning for his senior season.

A glut of players at Leslie’s position have declared for the NBA draft, with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Connecticut’s Andre Drummond expected to follow suit. Henson, Thomas Robinson of Kansas, Jared Sullinger of Ohio State and Perry Jones III of Baylor already have entered the draft and are considered lottery picks.

Leslie said what other underclassmen do will not affect his decision.

“I’m worried about just me right now,” Leslie said. “I’m not worried about anyone else. They can’t help me in any way.”

The 6-8 sophomore from Holly Springs saw his game take off in the final two months of the season, with his best performances coming against a series of high-profile forwards from Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Georgetown and Kansas.

Using his natural ability to get the ball to the basket with his quickness, instead of traditional post moves, Leslie averaged 17.1 points over the final 16 games, about five points per game better than he averaged the first 18 games of the season. He put up a career-best 24 points against Henson in a home loss to UNC on Feb. 21.

The start to Leslie’s sophomore season was delayed by a three-game NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits from a former N.C. State football player and early in the season he missed parts of four games with cramping and dehydration issues.

Leslie’s shot selection and shooting percentages went up from an uneven freshman season. He led the Pack this season in field goal percentage (52.5), up from the 43.3 percent he shot as a freshman.

Gottfried said he talked with between 15 and 20 NBA teams to get information on Leslie’s behalf. Leslie also requested feedback from the NBA advisory committee. Gottfried said the feedback has generally been positive.

“There’s a chance he could be in the first round, but there’s a chance maybe he wouldn’t,” Gottfried said.

Leslie said he was still in the process of receiving feedback.

“I’m going to wait to hear this feedback, and I’m going to go from there and make the decision based on what’s best for me,” Leslie said.

Leslie was a McDonald’s All-American at Raleigh’s Word of God in 2010, but his freshman season at N.C. State under former coach Sidney Lowe was dotted with maturity and attitude issues. Leslie credited Gottfried with helping him mature and with helping him to leave his issues with inconsistent play in the past. After State’s win over Virginia in the ACC tournament on March 9, Leslie said Gottfried had done an “an amazing job with me.”

The question now is whether Gottfried will get another season with the team’s best player.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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