Kawhi Leonard struggled to understand why his teammates weren't as good as him in college

Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesKawhi Leonard is one of the toughest defenders in the NBA, but in college he struggled to grasp one of the most important concepts in the sport.
  • Kawhi Leonard is one of the most dominant defenders in the NBA today.
  • According to a story by Jayson Jenks at The Athletic, Leonard’s early dominance in college lead to some interesting conversations among him and his teammates and coaches.
  • When trying to establish team defence, Leonard would ask why everyone couldn’t just guard their own man.
  • The answer was that not everyone on the team was Kawhi Leonard.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Kawhi Leonard is known for his quiet demeanour and his dominance on the court.

Leonard shot to superstardom early in his career as he was the NBA Finals MVP with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. This year, he has the Toronto Raptors on the cusp of their first title in franchise history.

Leonard’s work ethic is known throughout the league, and according to an oral history from The Athletic’s Jayson Jenks, dates back to his college days at San Diego State.

According to Jenks, Leonard was mostly the same person we see today during his time playing for the Aztecs from 2009 to 2011: always in the gym, impossible to guard, and an unstoppable force on defence. But while Leonard was a supremely talented player, his teammates and coaches say he expressed some frustrations with team defence.

“We would talk about rotations and how to help,” Justin Hutson, who was an assistant coach, told Jenks. “I would get him on it about. He was respectful, but he would be very frustrated and say, ‘Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?’ Those were exactly his words. ‘Why can’t everybody just guard their own man?'”

Tim Shelton, a forward at the time, told Jenks the same thing:

“Guys coming from high school have trouble with help-side defence. Kawhi made a comment to coach Hutson, who was the defensive coach at the time, and he was like, ‘I don’t get it, coach. Why can’t they just stay in front of their man like I do? Like, why do I have to play help side?’ That was his only comment I ever heard him make about defence: ‘They should just be able to stay in front of their man like I do.'”

It’s easy to imagine Leonard’s frustration. If the team were made up of five Kawhi Leonards on defence, no one would ever have to get beat and wind up in need of help.

Eventually, Leonard became as solid a help-defender as he is one-on-one, as is evident from his play today in the NBA. But Leonard’s frustrations in college also helped his teammates push themselves.

“In practice, he would tell us, ‘Don’t help, I don’t need help, I got it, I don’t need help,'” said D.J. Gay, another teammate. “That’s just how he was. That was his mentality. ‘I don’t need help; why do you need help?’ But then it made us better because it challenged us: If Kawhi doesn’t need help, I don’t need help, either.”

Read Jenks’ entire piece on Leonard’s college days ยป

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