Before Kawhi Leonard became a bonafide basketball superstar, an NBA Finals participant on the brink of winning another title and the quiet personality fans know him as today, he spent two seasons developing his game in college.
And it was during his career at San Diego State University when Leonard proved to be as lively as anyone.
From 2009-11, the now three-time NBA All-Star averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in 70 games. He also received numerous honors, including Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010.
It’s been an unforgettable NBA season for the Toronto Raptors and Leonard. So it’s time to take a look at the most memorable moments throughout his college tenure.
SDSU makes its first Sweet 16 appearance
Though the Aztecs earned another appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2014, Leonard led the team to its first ever in 2011. His most notable postseason win came against the Temple Owls in the Round of 32, when he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a career-high 46 minutes. Leonard’s durability highlighted SDSU’s path to the Sweet 16, but it would fall to the eventual national champion Connecticut.
Kawhi had a rivalry with Jimmer Fredette
Kawhi Leonard is known for his even-keeled demeanor on the court but he flashed a boisterous side in college — especially when he faced conference rival and BYU guard Jimmer Fredette. In January of 2011, the 6-foot-2 Fredette dropped 43 points on SDSU in a Cougars win. The Aztecs got their revenge with a 72-54 victory two months later, and after the game, Leonard provided a moment that may seem hard to believe. Picture this: the young 6-foot-7 forward taunting and clapping his hands in the face of Fredette at center court.
Leonard is a private presence today but wasn’t afraid to be vocal on the NCAA hardwood.
Leonard reaches All-American status
“The Claw” achieved one of his highest honors after his sophomore year, becoming a second-team All-American in 2011. Leonard averaged almost 16 points and 10 rebounds with the Aztecs, guiding his team to a 34-3 record and making him one of the ten candidates for the Naismith Trophy. He had a Michael Jordan-like flu game that same season and still managed a double-double with 22 points and 15 rebounds at No. 9 BYU. Leonard did all this at just 19 years old.
The Aztecs win back-to-back MWC Tournament championships
Leonard took the Aztecs to two straight Mountain West Conference tournament title games, winning both. The Southern California added 2010 MWC Tournament MVP and two-time first-team All-MWC to his resume while wreaking havoc on the conference. His success helped SDSU visit the NCAA Tournament through automatic bids two years in a row, even representing a No. 2 seed in 2011.
Leonard was a historic double-double producer
Leonard was the same double-double mastermind in college. Tying Andrew Bogut for the most in the statistical category in the history of the MWC, the teenaged basketball prodigy notched 40 career double-doubles. These efforts helped the Aztecs reach a No. 4 ranking in the country at one point in 2011 and later promoted Leonard to the NBA after being drafted fifteenth overall.
Despite his accomplished NCAA basketball tenure, Leonard isn’t remembered as a flashy college athlete. While watching him play in the NBA Finals, remember that he’s always been the guy who simply gets the job done.