SAN FRANCISCO — For all her standout moments during the 2016-17 season — the scoring total that ranked among the program’s all-time best, the record-setting assist total — Kennedy Leonard felt like she was picking herself up off the floor far too often.
Still just halfway through what already has been a stellar career with the University of Colorado , Leonard did what all great players do following last season by analyzing what she could do better once her junior season arrived. For Leonard, that meant adding more muscle to her 5-foot-8 frame.
At the Pac-12 Conference women’s basketball media day Wednesday, Leonard reported her offseason weight room endeavors were a resounding success. Already a first team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago, Leonard’s continued progression will be a key component to whatever success the new-look Buffaloes achieve this season.
“Having more muscles on you helps you not get pushed off the ball, helps you get up and down faster, it kind of helps you in every aspect of the game,” Leonard said. “Now seeing the repercussions of that, I think it’s a huge positive. I think having more on me will help me stay up and stay moving throughout the season. It’s a grind, it’s long. Being able to have a little more on me to take the hits and take the pushes I think will help throughout each and every game and into the postseason.”
If Leonard played her final game at CU tomorrow, she already would be among the most memorable players in the program’s history.
With 926 career points, Leonard will likely join CU’s 1,000-point club within the first month of the season. Her 563 points last year was the seventh-best single-season mark in the program’s history, and she also set a CU record with 190 assists. She recorded 80 steals, the most ever by a CU sophomore and the eight-best mark all-time. Perhaps more importantly as the team’s primary ball-handler, Leonard improved her assists-to-turnover ratio from 1.26 as a freshman to 1.90 last year.
And while her 3-point percentage suffered a somewhat surprising drop (.309 to .270), Leonard’s overall field goal percentage improved slightly from .359 to .365. That jump is indicative of Leonard’s improved ability to get to the hoop, which in theory should improve further with the newfound strength added to her frame.
“Honestly I don’t even pay attention to my 3-point percentage,” Leonard said. “But I got into the gym a ton this summer, making a certain amount of shots a day. I’m trying to be more consistent. The little things can add up to the big things and hopefully that number will go up. I think the main thing is being a good leader for my teammates and trying to hit the shots when I’m open or whenever my name is called.”
To that point, the leadership provided by Leonard and fellow junior guard Alexis Robinson will be critical on a CU team that features just two seniors alongside two sophomores and five freshmen. Robinson, despite recovering from a torn ACL, also has added 10 pounds of muscle since last year.
“It’s vitally important, on and off the floor,” head coach JR Payne said. “(Leonard and Robinson) have worked really hard to integrate the new players into our program from a training standpoint, and just spending time with them off the court as they’re adjusting to life in Boulder and life as a student-athlete.
“Ken last year was actually extremely durable for being a smaller player. But the strength she has gained and the strength (Robinson) has gained, we’ll see that in every stat.”