Kawhi Leonard is the most accomplished basketball player ever to come out of San Diego State University. If anyone is deserving of having his number 15 be the first-ever retired by the Aztecs, it’s the man who, as Kawhi said on Saturday night at Viejas Arena, “Put San Diego State on the map.”
Leonard watched the unveiling from the floor where he helped SDSU win two straight Mountain West Conference titles. He thanked Steve Fisher, the coaching staff, and of course The Show, the raucous Aztecs student section.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Kawhi, gazing up at the number 15 that no Aztec will ever wear again.
This year’s Aztecs got off to a 22-0 start, beating the 20-0 of Leonard’s sophomore season. But the bricks in this year’s foundation were laid back then and the main mason was a man who was honored on Saturday night at Viejas Arena.
“Kawhi Leonard has always had a work ethic like no other and he’s passed it down from generation to generation. We’ve got a TEAM. They’re not individual players, they’re a team,” said San Diego State alum Lee Sigall.
Even beyond that, the Aztecs have constructed a program and the first time that program landed on the national stage was nearly a decade ago when SDSU would ride the broad shoulders of Kawhi Leonard the Sweet 16 for the first time. That just might be where this year’s sensational start really began.
“I think it had to, honestly. I mean how else could it start?” asked 4th year San Diego State student Juan Candelaria Calbrone. “We’re here today because of where we came from and we’re just here to support the team.”
And, of course, pay tribute to one of the greatest basketball players on the planet.
“Kawhi is number one in my heart,” said SDSU 3rd year student Ryan Watson. “Number 15 on the court but number one in my heart. Or, number two on the court now (Leonard’s NBA number) but we still love him.”
Some fans think number one is still not enough.
“Kawhi is number zero in my heart. Before number one,” said 4th year Aztec student Josh Barfuss.
Mathematically that’s tough, but I get the sentiment. Aztec fans young and old look at Leonard as one of the true SDSU greats.
“Kawhi kind of ignited the passion within our program,” said Barfuss. “He’s kind of what made our program take off through the years. It started 10 years ago when he was playing for our school and ever since then Aztecs basketball has kind of taken off.”
That’s not all simply fan service. The Aztecs have been able to recruit players like the ones they have now at least in some part because recruits associate San Diego State with Kawhi Leonard … and a potential professional future.
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean when you recruit a young man they all want to feel like they have a chance to play in the NBA,” said Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher, who was a major part in selling Leonard on SDSU during the recruiting process. “You point to Kawhi Leonard and say not only can you get there from here, you can arguably be the best player in the NBA from San Diego State.”
That is a legacy absolutely deserving of being the first player in Aztecs history to have his number retired.