Imagine being a junior college basketball coach and finding out one of your players has a 6-foot-10 cousin who is looking for a team. Imagine being a 6-10 basketball player with minimal experience and suddenly having opportunities you never anticipated.
Prince George's Community College basketball coach Xavier Joyner and PGCC rising sophomore DeAndre Leatherwood don't have to use too much brain power to conjure up those scenarios. They've lived them in the past year.
Leatherwood, a 2011 Northwest High School graduate, has experienced a growth spurt — literally and figuratively. In the fall of 2007 he was a 5-8 ninth-grade football player. Five years, 14 inches and many new pairs of jeans and shoes later, he is on his way to an invitation-only showcase for some of the nation's most promising junior college basketball players.
On July 14, Leatherwood is scheduled to be in St. Louis to participate in the Mullen's Juco Top 100 Camp, where 100 junior college players will have the chance to play before hundreds of coaches from four-year schools.
The camp is run by Jerry Mullen, a former junior college coach from Kansas who now operates a basketball scouting service. Joyner said Mullen observed Leatherwood at the Maryland Junior College Conference Tournament and saw that “his potential is so enormous.”
“When I found out I was shocked,” Leatherwood said of his invitation to the camp. “I don't view myself as being that good yet because I've only been playing basketball for two years. It caught me by surprise.”
Indeed, it's all been a bit of a whirlwind for a player who averaged 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game last season.
Dumone Leatherwood was going into his sophomore year at PGCC last summer when he told Joyner about his 6-10 cousin. At the time, DeAndre said, he was planning to attend Montgomery College-Germantown or MC-Rockville, but had no college basketball recruiting interest.
“When I found out about him, I knew he hadn't played much basketball, but I wanted to at least try to work with him,” Joyner said. “He was not uncoordinated, the way most guys are who have that type of growth spurt. He was very athletic. But the best thing is he's a sponge to information, and he hadn't played much, so he had no bad habits. Everything you taught him was fresh to him.”
DeAndre said he played three years of youth football in Germantown and was on Northwest's JV football team in ninth and 10th grades. He played no sports his junior year. But by the start of his senior year, he was 6-7 and joined Northwest's basketball team in a preseason fall league before playing sparingly for the varsity team that winter.
DeAndre said he and Dumone had played in pick-up games together, but never on the same team in organized games, which made last season at PGCC a fun experience. But it came with a challenge as well.
“It was motivation because I didn't want to let [Dumone] down for bringing me to PGCC,” DeAndre said. “I always had confidence in myself. Once I committed to playing I just put in the hard work, and along with the teaching from coach Joyner, I felt like I could be successful.”
There were a few trying moments along the way, such as a mid-season game when DeAndre had a lapse that stands out in his mind.
“I kind of got dunked on,” he said. “I pride myself on defense, so that hurt a little.”
But Joyner said DeAndre's attitude helped make even the trying moments tolerable.
“He picked things up and never had any major growing pains,” Joyner said. “The coaching staff nicknamed him 'The Project.' He was raw initially, but he's been willing to work hard. His demeanor is great already.”
For now, DeAndre is a big body with a lean frame. He is 190 pounds and said he hopes to bulk up to 215 or 220, quickly adding that he has sworn off McDonald's and is hitting the weight room during the summer. Because of his build, Joyner said he envisions DeAndre playing a forward spot and using his agility as an asset.
“His hands have to be a lot better, and we're trying to work on developing his perimeter skills,” Joyner said. “We want to mold him into more of a 3 or 4 kind of guy, more of a roamer on the court. Even from the end of the season to now, he's improved.”
DeAndre is approaching the Top 100 Camp with a purpose.
“I've just got to go out there and prove to myself and to all the coaches watching that just because I'm inexperienced doesn't mean I can't play,” he said. “I still have potential because I'm so inexperienced, and if I do good there, they'll see that with even more experience I can be a way better player than I am now.”