Seton Hill's Leonard busts out with big season
By Jeff Vella
Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
Seton Hill basketball player Malachi Leonard got engaged over Christmas break, so his teammates facetiously have been calling him the old married man on campus.
On the court, though, Leonard is no joke.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward/center is a candidate for PSAC West Player of the Year, ranking eighth in the conference with 17 points per game and first with 9.1 rebounds per game.
“I really don't think one-on-one underneath anyone can guard him because he gives you the full package of everything,” teammate Nate Perry said. “He can shoot it. He can drive it. He can put his back to the basket and score.”
The Griffins (15-9, 7-7) have held their own as first-year PSAC members — already clinching a spot in the conference tournament — and Leonard's presence is a major reason.
“He's strong. He's extremely agile,” coach Tony Morocco said. “He has a good instinct offensively on how to spin and move and drop-step. His timing rebounding-wise is uncanny.”
Leonard's breakout can be traced to his renewed focus, which he hopes will lead to a professional career overseas. The York native was a Division I prospect in high school and committed to Hawaii, but he said grades forced him to go the junior college route. He spent a year at Tallahassee Community College and another at Harcum College in Philadelphia. After his sophomore season, he said he had a scholarship offer from D-I North Carolina A&T but felt more comfortable after visiting Seton Hill.
“Coming out of high school, everyone has the hype about Division I basketball. That's all I was feeding into,” Leonard said. “But I had a lot of coaches telling me a lot of Division II players can still play professionally. A professional coach would rather have someone from Division II playing 30 to 40 minutes and dominating in all cylinders than a Division I player playing 10 to 15 minutes.”
Leonard averaged 13 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. His improvement this winter is largely due to more work in the weight room and better practice habits, said Perry, who was his roommate over the summer.
“It was a matter of being around the right people,” Leonard said. “I don't think I took basketball very seriously. Coach Tony introduced me to a whole new game of basketball in terms of work ethic, giving it all you got. Basketball is a living for me. It's not just something I do to have fun. It's a whole new drive for me, seeing my accomplishments and where it can take me and my family.”
Leonard and his fiancee, Ashley, have a 2-year-old son, Jakobi. When Leonard proposed, he handed the ring to Jakobi and told him to give it to his mom.
“She turned around and saw what he had, and I was down on one knee,” Leonard said. “It was a real surprise for her. With everything that's going on and me wanting to play professionally, I wouldn't want to go anywhere without her.”
When Leonard returned from break and walked into the gym for the first time, the team applauded. Leonard said he expects all his teammates to attend the Aug. 2 wedding.
“I just told her to tell me when to be there,” Leonard said with a laugh.
Jeff Vella is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JeffVella_Trib.
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