It's not often an NBA draft pick does his farewell news conference in college after the big day, but it worked out well that way for Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State. Leonard helped take the Aztecs to unprecedented heights and the Sweet 16 before announcing via a news release he was turning pro after a memorable sophomore season.
On Friday, a week after being drafted 15th overall and traded to the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard came back to campus to say good-bye.
"There's no question that Kawhi's legacy will live long after today with his leaving San Diego State," coach Steve Fisher told reporters. "It's already done that, the ripple effect when Kawhi's name is mentioned. Until now it's been Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Now it will be Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs, college: San Diego State."
Fisher wants to see Leonard back on the bench when it's convenient, and of course, part of him wishes the versatile forward were still available to play. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes that as of now, the rebuilding Aztecs only have eight scholarship players on the roster.
Despite Leonard's early departure, Fisher and the rest of his program did not lose sight of the fact that the lightly-recruited prospect, who led them to their first NCAA tournament wins, represented something much larger. The team's achievements brought relevancy to the program and packed the arena. After Leonard was drafted, the Aztecs put out a congratulatory highlight video. Now the standard is set for future players to keep it going.
Asked what he gained from the San Diego State experience, Leonard said, "A winning edge and more of a mental focus on basketball, it's not all physical. Just learning every part of my game and how a team works and just becoming a great team to go as far as we did in the tournament."
"It's also nice to hear when Kawhi starts talking that San Diego State is in the forefront of what he says and he says it with conviction and meaning," Fisher said. "He's always going to be one of ours, obviously. We'd like to have him bouncing a ball for us next year, but he will always be an Aztec, and it is well documented the great things that happened while he played here. He was the ringleader at the forefront of all of it."