Kennedy Leonard evolving as spokesperson for CU Buffs women’s hoops

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Colorado's Kennedy Leonard was called "the team's best player" by head coach JR Payne on Thursday.

  • Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

    Colorado head coach JR Payne speaks with the press during Pac-12 media day on Thursday in San Francisco.



Pac-12 women’s coaches poll

Team (First Place) Points

UCLA (8) 116

Stanford (2) 110

Washington (2) 93

Arizona State 89

Oregon State 81

California 71

Oregon 69

Utah 52

USC 44

Washington State 31

Colorado 22

Arizona 14

SAN FRANCISCO — Kennedy Leonard has been forthright about her desire to become a more rounded leader for the University of Colorado women’s basketball team.

Part of that process continued Thursday for Leonard, as CU’s point guard was selected to represent her team at the Pac-12 Conference headquarters for the league’s annual media day despite being just a sophomore.

“I think doing this will help a lot, especially just dealing with the media,” Leonard said. “Here 24/7 they’re on us and watching us. Knowing what to say and being an ambassador for the university, I think this is a very important role for us to play.”

With three weeks still to go before coach JR Payne makes her debut on Nov. 11 at Northern Colorado, CU’s first-year leader isn’t ready to pinpoint a starting five or a regular rotation just yet. Except for the fact that Leonard will spend plenty of time on the floor.

“It’s safe to say Kennedy is our best player and she’s going to be on the floor a ton,” Payne said. “Other than that, we’re still working on lineups. And honestly, I don’t ever really place an emphasis on starting. I always talk to them being in at the end of the game. It’s crunch time that matters.”

Leonard earned Pac-12 All-Freshman honors last year after averaging 12.1 points and a team-best 4.6 assists.

Preseason poll

The league released its preseason coaches poll on Thursday, with the Buffs coming in at No. 11. CU received 22 points and only finished ahead of Arizona, which also welcomes a new coach this year in Adia Barnes.

“That’s where we finished, sort of, and that’s where we should be picked,” Payne said. “It should motivate our kids to prove that we’re better than that.”

UCLA nabbed eight of 12 first-place votes to top the poll, followed by Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, and Oregon State.

Finley joins Wildcats

Barnes, the all-time leading scorer at Arizona who is tasked with rebuilding the Wildcats’ program, added former CU assistant Kelly Rae Finley to her staff as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. Finley spent five seasons at CU under former coach Linda Lappe, who was fired after last year’s 7-23 campaign.

“I had a list of people I had in mind when I possibly was going to get the job at Arizona, and she was one of the first people I went after,” Barnes said. “She’s a tremendous recruiter. She’s great on the floor. She’s really smart. She’s a great addition to the staff.

“Recruiting on the road you meet people, and I watched her work. When it came to hiring I looked at people’s work ethic and body language, and she fit all the things I wanted.”

At Arizona, Finley will be reunited with Alexus Atchley, who is beginning her first season as a graduate assistant with the Wildcats. Atchley spent one season at CU before transferring to Washington, where she completed her playing career last spring. Barnes spent the past five years as an assistant at Washington.


“I had to do the coaches’ poll, and in 20 years it was the hardest to do.”

— Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, on the parity in a league that sent three teams into the Elite Eight and two into the Final Four last year.


The Buffs will host their annual 1-on-1 event Sunday in the upper practice gym at the Coors Events Center. Team members will be paired with a female faculty member to be introduced to fans. The doors open at 12:30 p.m. For more information call 303-492-5497…The original release for Thursday’s media day had CU senior Haley Smith on the docket instead of Huggins, but Payne insisted it merely was a typo. “It could’ve been a coin flip with them,” Payne said. “They both are great senior leaders.”

Pat Rooney: or