RALEIGH — Richard Howell sat across the table from C.J. Leslie at the ACC’s media day recently. Leslie was surrounded by reporters, laughing, telling jokes – every bit the center of attention, and loving it. Howell, left momentarily alone, watched in amazement.
Only a year ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Leslie being comfortable in that kind of situation. After a year in which he found his legs as a player and as a person, exploding on the court as his personality blossomed in public, Leslie is as prepared as he ever has been for a basketball season.
“I’m definitely a confident person coming into this season,” Leslie said. “I’ve been here. I know what’s expected. I know how things are done.”
That’s obviously important for Leslie, the ACC’s preseason player of the year in voting by both the media and coaches, but it may be more important for N.C. State. After a sophomore year in which several teammates and a new coaching staff helped Leslie emerge from his shell, Leslie is expecting to put himself on the other side of the equation with N.C. State’s freshman class.
The stakes are high: N.C. State is counting on freshmen Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis to make significant contributions from the first minutes of the season. Given their recruiting hype, fans aren’t worried, but coach Mark Gottfried is.
“Are those three guys ready, to go on the road, to Virginia Tech, and understand how important this game is, or at Clemson?” Gottfried asked. “This defensive possession at this point in this game? How important it is to execute your offense? That’s something that’s going to be a process for us this year.”
After his difficult adjustment to college basketball as a freshman, coming in as a top-20 prospect from Raleigh’s Word of God Academy and struggling both on and off the court in the final year of the Sidney Lowe regime, Leslie thinks he has some useful advice to offer Purvis, Warren and Lewis, so that they may benefit from the lessons he learned through difficult experience.
“Just come in and realize, accept that there are going to be obstacles,” Leslie said. “You have to realize there’s a jump from high school, a lot of things are going to be different, and you’re not going to do them the right way. That’s the main thing. You have to accept that, and that’s the first step to doing good.”
Some of this is a two-way street: the uncommonly mature Purvis, who has known Leslie for years, will be expected to mentor Leslie as much as the reverse is true, particularly with the departure of Alex Johnson and C.J. Williams. And these freshmen, at least at this point, appear to require less of an adjustment than Leslie did coming out of high school.
“What’s good about them is they came in accepting a role,” senior forward Howell said. “They know they’re not going to come in and score right off the bat. It’s a long process. It’s a head start for us. They already know their role and what we expect them to do. Most freshmen don’t come in like that.”
Leslie made the decision to return for so many reasons: To improve his NBA draft stock and compete for an ACC title, to be sure, but the lure of playing with Purvis should not be discounted either, particularly with all the hard-earned knowledge Leslie now has to impart.
“All of these guys can play,” Leslie said. “All of these guys can step right in and help. At this point, you never know. We’ll see what happens when the games start.”
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947