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CJ Leslie Makes The Right Move In Not Moving On

April 25, 2011

The deadline for NBA draftees to declare themselves for the draft came and went last night at 11:59 pm. One name State fans hoped wouldn't appear in the draft pool was ultra-physically-gifted CJ Leslie, and when the clock struck 12:00 last night, it still hadn't.

So now that we can assume Leslie is staying (and there certainly don't appear to be any signs he's thinking of transferring), what does this mean for new coach Mark Gottfried?

If you're coach Gott, obviously the good news is perhaps the most talented player on the existing roster you just inherited is staying. You can't teach raw physical ability, and while he's still a bit undersized on the scales to challenge some of the bigger Fours and Fives in the ACC and upper levels of Division I, there are few players in America that can match his combination of height, quickness and leaping ability on the low blocks.

Where Gottfried and his newly minted staff face their biggest challenge will harnessing Leslie's abilities into a product that meshes with his teammates. Given Gottfried has never been known for his disciplinarian ways, could State fans at times find themselves feeling just as frustrated with Leslie as they did during last season?

Working in Gott's favor are a couple of things. One, CJL is a year older. That may not seem like that big of a deal to someone like me in their 30s, but when you're 18, one year represents roughly 6% of your entire lifespan to that point. Trust me, as I'm quickly learning, one year of growth in your late teens feels a lot more substantial than it does later in life. Hopefully we'll see a more mature player on the court, and I think this decision may echo a bit of that maturation process.

Two, Gottfried nor his staff have anything to feel like they owe CJ at this point. They did not recruit him to State under the pretenses of extended playing time or preferential treatment from the coaching staff. As such, there should not be, at any point in the coming years, a time where Gottfriend should hesitate benching Leslie appropriately. If Sidney Lowe promised Leslie anything in the way of guaranteed playing time, those promises left with Lowe. This should give Gottfried and his staff the necessary leverage to use playing time as it should be: the assumed reward for hard, smart work in games and in practices.

And the plusses aren't limited to the coaching staff/NC State fans: CJ Leslie I believe benefits in this deal more than he may immediately know. He gains another year to mature physically, mentally and perhaps most importantly as a basketball player.

People need to be challenged in order to grow in every phase of their lives; basketball is no different in this respect. My hope is the coaching staff pushes Leslie harder than he's ever been pushed in his life to this point. We as fans will get a better ballplayer on the court, sure, but I think Leslie himself will be better for it in the long run.

College, not the pros, is the perfect environment for Leslie to get this type of push. At State, the worst that can happen to Leslie if he rejects the challenges to be become better is he takes a seat alongside his other benched teammates. Were he to go pro prematurely and find himself rejecting the authority of his pro coaches, that's it. Done. Splitsville. Perhaps he could head to Europe as a fallback, but making it back to the pros after missing out initially in the states is a hard, hard road. (Just ask Josh Powell.) Staying in college one more year affords him a built-in second chance he wouldn't receive in "the real world" of pro basketball.

I think CJ stands to grow quite a bit this coming year and evolve away from the player we sometimes chided for being too selfish. This decision seems to be a step in the right direction.



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