Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Three years into her career with the Colorado women’s basketball team, Kennedy Leonard has an impressive collection of statistics.
Leonard is second in CU history in assists (529), 11th in steals (184) and 14th in points (1,383). No player in program history has averaged more assists per game (5.6), and not many have taken or made as many 3-pointers and free throws as she has.
Leonard is aware of where she ranks, yet in preparing for her senior year, her focus isn’t on climbing those lists, but on going where she’s never been. CU hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2013 – its only appearance in the last 14 years.
“Obviously it’s right there,” Leonard said. “I have one year left, so if I don’t get in, it’s my only chance. Me and (fellow senior Alexis Robinson), when we first came here, we talked about wanting to bring Colorado back to where it was. For us, it’s huge. All we ever talk about is how mad we’re going to be if we don’t make the tournament.
“It’s important, but at the same time we’re not trying to put too much pressure on ourselves.”
Getting to the NCAA Tournament would be a big jump for the Buffs (15-16, 5-13 Pac-12 last season), and it’s one that head coach JR Payne doesn’t want her players to focus on too much.
“Think about, how can we get better today?” Payne said. “If you start thinking about what’s three miles down the road and you don’t take care of what’s in your control here now, it’s all in the wrong place.”
That’s why Leonard is focusing on being a leader this offseason to set the tone for next year.
“In the back of my head, I know everybody is looking toward me,” she said. “I just try to be a good influence for them and be the calm for them; when things get rough they can look to me.”
A vocal leader, Leonard also leads by example.
“Her work ethic speaks for itself,” Payne said. “Anyone that could come into Coors Events Center, any time day or night, they’re probably going to see Kennedy in there shooting or lifting or ice bathing or something.”
In fact, Leonard really doesn’t know how to take a day off.
Asked to describe a week off from basketball, she said, “A week off? I don’t think I’ve ever had a week off. I have no idea what it would look like. A day off is like I just shoot. That’s a good day off.”
OK, how about the last time she went through a day without touching a basketball?
“Christmas Day, maybe,” she said. “I don’t think I could (take time off). It’s just my place, I guess.”
Leonard is trying to help her teammates follow her example of hard work.
“We talked about leaving behind a legacy, which is bringing other people into the gym with me and that kind of thing, so when I’m not here, they remember that’s what they’re supposed to do,” she said.
It’s not all about basketball for Leonard, though. While she and every other player on the team can get better, Leonard believes that team camaraderie will be crucial to the Buffs’ success next year.
“We set some goals about how we do want to make the postseason,” she said. “You focus one game at a time, but we all want to get 20 wins. But, it’s also team bonding stuff, hanging out once a week and not just because we have to but because we want to.
“Winning is important but I also want to build relationships with all my teammates.”
The Buffs came together as a team in the second half last season, playing their best basketball down the stretch. Leonard’s doing all she can to keep that going – and take it to the next level.
Statistics might be fun to look at down the road, but for now, Leonard realizes team bonding and group success is the priority, along with getting the Buffs back onto the national stage.
“(Individual numbers) would mean more if we had NCAA banners,” she said. “It’s cool that I’ve done that but what have I done for the university? It’s more important than that.”