The Wolfpacker

January 2019

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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66 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY BRIAN RAPP W hen you're the youngest sib‑ ling in a family of basketball players — including an older brother who starred for three years at the local university — it's only natural to be saddled with a lot of precon‑ ceived suppositions and expectations. But NC State's Kiara Leslie refuses to measure her career for the Wolfpack with a comparison to the "other" Pack alumnus in the family, Calvin Leslie Jr., better known as C.J, who suited up in Raleigh from 2010‑13. It's one reason why the 2014 grad‑ uate of Holly Springs (N.C.) High School opted to continue her hoops career with another ACC program, Maryland, rather than immediately follow in C.J.'s footsteps — and a big reason why she politely, but firmly, refutes any talk of her being known merely as "C.J.'s little sister." "I'm my own person," the youngest of Calvin and Lisa Leslie's five children (and only daughter) said. "C.J. had a great career here [with two selections to the All‑ACC team], but I have to make a name for myself, not just come in and take off of his shine." Based on her performance in her debut season with NC State last year, after trans‑ ferring from Maryland, and her continued level of play so far this season, there's little doubt that Kiara Leslie won't be remem‑ bered just as someone else's little sister. Since playing her way into the starting lineup eight games into the 2017‑18 sea‑ son, Leslie has been one of the most con‑ sistent contributors for coach Wes Moore's Pack at both ends of the court. Her aver‑ ages of 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last season were second only to se‑ nior forward and four‑year veteran Chelsea Nelson's 12.9 and 9.4 figures — despite not starting eight games. Her 13.0 scor‑ ing output this season was second only to Grace Hunter's 16.1 average through the Pack's first eight games, and she led the team with a 9.1 boards per contest. And her three years of experience with a Terrapins program that was an NCAA Tournament participant every year proved invaluable during NC State's postseason appearance last year. After leading the Pack back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007 with a 21‑point, 11‑rebound effort in a 74‑60 victory over her former team in the second round, Leslie net‑ ted a career‑high 27 points in a losing effort to eventual national runner‑up Mississippi State in the regional semifinals. For the Pack's three NCAA Tournament games, Leslie averaged a team‑high 20.3 points a contest. "We probably would not have had the year we had without Kiara, no doubt," Moore said. "And we probably wouldn't be where we are now [8‑0 through Dec. 2] without her. We've been very blessed." That blessing had to wait for three years before coming to fruition in Raleigh last year. In fact, it took a near tragedy in Les‑ lie's career at Maryland to end up with her arrival back home. As a double‑digit scorer for Holly Springs, earning District 5 Player of the Year honors, Leslie earned interest from most of the ACC schools, including Vir‑ ginia and Virginia Tech, by the end of her junior year. A torn labrum at the beginning of her senior season forced her to miss most of her last prep year, but she was still ranked the No. 8 guard in the country by ESPNW HoopGurlz. From a final list the included Wake For‑ est, East Carolina and NC State (she was heavily recruited by former Pack coach Kellie Harper), Leslie chose Brenda Frese's Terrapins because "every time I visited, it felt like home," she explained. "Plus, I felt their style of play was best for me, too." After coming off the bench during Mary‑ land's Final Four season in 2014‑15, Leslie began her sophomore year in the starting lineup, but lost her spot in early December, finishing the season averaging 4.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11.0 minutes of play‑ ing time per contest. Then in April, a month after the end of the season, Leslie was playing in a pickup game when she crashed into the backboard support, breaking her lower leg and fractur‑ ing a bone in her foot. The severity of the injury required her sitting out what would have been her junior season. "Coach Frese told me before the start of the [2016‑17] season that because of the in‑ jury I'd be behind the incoming freshmen," Leslie said. "She told me she'd love to have me stay, but she wasn't sure I'd be happy with how she planned to play me. "So, I made the decision to transfer." Though she wasn't sure at that time where her destination would be, her former AAU coach eventually helped her connect up with NC State, where Moore had re‑ placed Harper in the spring of 2013. "We knew she was leaving [Maryland], but anytime you have the opportunity to maybe get a great player, it isn't easy," Moore said. "But Maryland was great — they paid for her to finish summer school and graduate [in the spring of 2017, leaving Les‑ lie two more years of athletic eligibility as a graduate transfer that did not have to sit out]. "She is just so versatile — she's a slasher, she can knock down the three, take you off the bounce, is a great rebounder and is our best defender on the perimeter. And she's one of those players who is in the gym getting shots up before you get there. "I put her in the starting lineup last year because we needed a strong defender on the perimeter. I'm not one to change line‑ ups in mid‑season — but she's made that decision look pretty good." With her degree already in hand (in criminal justice), Leslie is taking a light graduate course load to prepare for a pos‑ sible career with the FBI — if her dreams of a pro hoops career, or as an assistant coach of a men's college team, fall through. The Pack player lists a willingness to "be there for my teammates however they need me" as her goal for her final college hoops season, which will hopefully end with an‑ other trip to the NCAA Tournament. "I just want to be remembered as a great all‑around player and a great teammate," she said. And not just another NC State hoop star's "little sister." ■ LEAVING A LEGACY OF HER OWN Kiara Leslie Is Showing She's More Than Just A Former Pack Player's Sibling Through eight games this season, Leslie ranked second on the team in scoring (13.0 points per game) and first in rebounding (9.1). PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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