His selection may have occurred later than most draft experts expected, but the situation couldn’t be any more ideal for former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard.
While many draft pundits predicted Leonard would be taken in the Top 10, the sophomore fell to 15 and was selected by the Indiana Pacers.
Shortly after picking Leonard, the Pacers traded the former SDSU star’s rights to the San Antonio Spurs — the same Spurs who won 61 games last season and have won four NBA championships since 1999.
Being selected by an NBA team is a goal not many basketball players get to achieve, so Leonard is grateful for the opportunity.
“I feel great right now,” Leonard said to the media last Thursday at the NBA Draft. “I got picked to be on an NBA team. I worked hard. I finally accomplished my dream now, but it’s not over yet. I’ve got a lot of work to do to make an impact in the league, and I’m ready to do any type of work I’ve got to do.”
Leonard, who averaged 14.1 points and 10.2 rebounds while racking up 40 double-doubles in 70 career games as an Aztec, is now joining a team with proven stars such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs have been a model NBA franchise for the last decade, and are known to be one of the smarter teams in the NBA when it comes to evaluating talent.
“He’s going to a phenomenal franchise that, like Kawhi, is a winner,” head coach Steve Fisher said in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I think he will fit in beautifully there.”
Leonard, a Riverside native, won a CIF-Southern Section Division I-AA title his senior year in high school and guided the Aztecs to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in the university’s history.
Playing on a winning team will be nothing new to the former SDSU star.
While the draft day slide and eventual trade may have been hectic, Leonard is now ready to do anything to help his team.
“I feel good,” Leonard said. “I had a meeting with them, and I got a great vibe from them. Just any team I’m on, I’m happy with right now. I’m just going in, trying to do whatever the coach wants me to do to make the team successful.”
The second-team All-American is expected to give an aging San Antonio team an injection of youth and help bring the team’s defense back to its championship standards.
Leonard was the highest drafted SDSU player since Michael Cage, who was the 14th overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984.
Leonard is the 18th NBA draft pick in school history, and the first player taken since 2002 when ironically, the Spurs selected Randy Holcomb.