The fantastic press and buzz around Mark Gottfried’s basketball program at NC State continues. Today, Sports Illustrated ran a huge feature on what is perhaps Coach Gottfried’s single greatest achievement in his short tenure — the obvious development of Calvin (CJ) Leslie.
The following are just a couple of excerpts from the great article — you really need to read the whole thing linked here.
C.J. Leslie skipped his very first class at N.C. State. His absence was promptly reported to the school’s new athletic director Debbie Yow.
“I was alarmed and I asked that someone find him and have him meet me at my office,” Yow recalls. “He came in and I said, ‘Hey, it’s Day 1 and you just missed a class and I’m really worried and we’re going to have lunch together and talk about this.’”
Yow had ordered Leslie a turkey sandwich from Subway. Leslie told her, “I don’t eat Subway.”
Yow stared back at Leslie incredulously and said, “OK, I’m going to eat my sandwich and you’ve got some potato chips and a cookie, so you eat that and we’ll talk about school.”
“He was quiet,” Yow recalls. “He was withdrawn. I made him give me his cell number before he left so he knew I’d be keeping up with him.”
“She wanted to get to know me,” Leslie says. “I can’t say that I wanted to get to know her.”
It was hardly an auspicious beginning.
The moment when Mark Gottfried officially transformed C.J. into Calvin occurred after N.C. State’s disappointing home loss to a weak Georgia Tech team on Jan. 11. Leslie showed up at practice the next day sullen about the defeat. He was exhibiting what his coaches refer to as a “C.J. moment.”
“He was kind of blowing off practice like it wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t make eye contact with me and he had that disinterested look that I hadn’t seen very much,” Gottfried says. “I threw him out of practice and the next game at Wake Forest I didn’t start him and we won by 36 and he wasn’t really a factor in the game. After that, his attitude started to change. He learned that he wasn’t going to be allowed to turn his effort on and off like a faucet. He started trusting that what we were trying to convince him to do was good for him.”
“C.J. was maturing and he started making better decisions,” Lisa Leslie says. “Having a coach that he felt really believed in him boosted his morale, because you’re not going to shoot 10-for-10 every night, but Coach Gottfried told him to keep shooting.”
“I’ll tell you that if Coach Gottfried would have been here my freshman year, it would have been a whole different year,” Leslie says. “I’ve made a complete 180 from that year. He has more patience. We’re on the same page.”
In April, Leslie scheduled a meeting with Gottfried to share his decision about whether or not he would return to N.C. State for his junior season. In the upcoming NBA draft, Leslie was being projected anywhere from late in the first round to somewhere in the second round.
Leslie entered Gottfried’s office with a very serious demeanor.
“Hey, Calvin,” Gottfried said.
“What’s up coach?” Leslie said.
“Have a seat.”
“So, I made my decision.”
“Ok, what did you come up with?”
“Looks like I’m going to have to go ahead and test the waters, coach.”
Leslie noticed Gottfried’s chin drop. “Well, I’m happy for you and I support your decision,” Gottfried said in response. “I wish we could have …”
Then Leslie said, “Nah, I was just playing. I’m coming back.”
Gottfried exhaled deeply.
“I got him,” Leslie says. “That was probably the joke of the year. I guess I got him back for calling me Calvin.”