NC State Media Day: Calvin Leslie?

Posted by mpatton on October 13th, 2011

CJ Leslie is one of college basketball’s most naturally talented players. But watching NC State play last season, it was clear that Leslie didn’t totally have his head in the game. He looked like the uber-talented guy at pick-up games who checks out a couple of minutes in and hangs around the perimeter, only willing to shoot threes and wait for the occasional fast break. New head coach Mark Gottfried wants Leslie’s attitude to change. In fact he wants it to change so much that he’s rechristened CJ as “Calvin.”

Mark Gottfried is Calling CJ Leslie "Calvin" This Year.

The general message here is clear: it’s a combination of “I’m in charge,” and “you’re going to be a different player this season.” But the message isn’t what’s important. It’s Leslie’s response. As of media day Leslie appears to be buying into Gottfried’s system. But it’s easy to accept a hardline system when there’s no playing time to lose and your team’s record is 0-0. What will happen when the Wolfpack go on a losing streak? What happens when Calvin’s attitude slips and Gottfried lets him ride the pine?

NC State Blog Riddick and Reynolds also pointed out the decision is risky not only for how Leslie may react, but how the team might react:

The $64,000 question is how does a coach in today’s era placate the ego of a sulking superstar without losing the respect of the rest of your team? Maybe the simple answer is you can’t. Certainly no one player can hold the rest of his team hostage, and perhaps the risk of alienating “Calvin” is offset by the assumption the rest of the team will rally around their coaches and perform better without him. Maybe Gott’s been around enough prima donnas to know “Calvin” will react positively to this public shaming and all this fretting is nonsense.

Personally, I think the move will be a success if–and only if–Gottfried earned CJ Leslie’s respect before changing his name. Like it or not, the nationally relevant AAU system has led to superstars being crowned before they even play on a college court. Those players usually bring superstar-sized egos, and taking a patronizing stance like Gottfried can’t come across as a sign of disrespect and still be effective. Some coaches earn players’ respect quickly, but new coaches (who weren’t involved in recruiting the players) should definitely proceed cautiously.

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