Leach soars onto radar
Terrell Leach isn’t the same player he once was.
Now he’s even better. And suddenly a lot of people are taking notice.
After missing nearly all of last season with a devastating knee injury, Leach, a senior guard at Southwest Guilford, has become one of the area’s hottest players, with a number of huge games and YouTube-worthy highlights that have sparked the Cowboys to a 14-0 start.
“It feels great because, when I was in rehab, I was worried I wasn’t going to come back the same,” Leach says. “But after I came back from rehab and they released me, I just went in the gym and worked hard, worked on my game.
“In our summer league games, I played hard, tried to get back in shape and work on my shooting. I thought my jumping ability wouldn’t be there. But when I realized it was still there — and I can actually get higher now — I was excited to get back on the court with my teammates.”
Leach is far from a dark horse (he was Piedmont Triad 4A Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore), but at times his accomplishments — particularly his 54-point game in the final of the Sheetz holiday tournament in late December — have been spectacular this season.
He easily leads the team with 32 points per game, shooting an efficient 70 percent from inside the 3-point arc and 40 percent from outside it. He also leads in rebounds and blocks, displaying a superb handle on his natural abilities, honed skills and understanding of the game.
“There are a few people who get it in high school,” says Southwest coach Guy Shavers, who has coached players like Cameron Bennerman and Eric Hicks in AAU. “Most of us are saying: ‘If I had six more months in high school, I would’ve done this.’ He gets it in high school.
“If you’re passive, he attacks you; if you’re aggressive, he attacks you. Pretty much every move he makes, he does it with a counter in mind. He just understands who he is and what he can do. And he has some gifts that other people don’t have and takes advantage of them.”
This season, though, was very much in doubt a year ago. In only the ninth game of his junior season, Leach went up for a layup against Greensboro Day and felt something pop. He’s had nicks and dings before, but this was different. And as he went on, he knew he couldn’t go on.
It was Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD), an injury in which basically a fragment of his bone and cartilage broke off in his left knee. After he sustained the injury in late December, doctors finally operated on his knee in February, putting a definite end to his season.
“It was hard, just watching my teammates out there,” Leach says. “But I believed they’d still win without me. I felt down on the bench, but I was still cheering for them and telling them to keep playing hard, keep believing and I’d always be there for them.”
One positive, though was him seeing the game from another perspective and learning from teammate Jordan Hanner. “I watched the defenses they played against Jordan, because he was one of our leading scorers,” Leach says. “I just kept that in mind, and when I got back in the gym, I asked Coach what to do against that and just paid attention to the game.”
After rehab in the spring, Leach was back on the court by June and close to form during the Cowboys’ summer-league workouts. It was then that he regained his confidence and knew he’d be ready to go — even sending out a tweet of himself dunking with the caption: “I’m back.”
With him back in full, Southwest, highlighted by Leach — who confirmed his comeback with a number of “wow” plays during the summer and early in the season — but driven by an array of younger, talented players, clicked into playing its best basketball in years, his teammates say.
“He brings a lot,” senior Michael Bryant says. “A lot of energy, and he brings confidence to us as a team,” adds sophomore K.J. Langley. “He gives us a lot of open shots,” sophomore Ben Ferguson says, “because the defense is so focused on him.”
“It’s almost like we started over (after last year),” Bryant follows. “Even though we had three or four people who came back, it was a completely new team. We all knew that Terrell was stepping up and being a leader.” “It was his confidence, really,” Langley says. “And his energy.”
In the final of the Sheetz holiday tournament at Southwest, Leach broke out, making play after play, including a monster dunk in overtime. He finished with 54 points and earned the tournament MVP in a one-point win — a stellar return from what could’ve been the end to his hoops dreams.
But he’s far from done. Leach, who has narrowed his top college choices to UNC Greensboro, Cleveland State, Winston-Salem State and East Carolina, is still hungry to achieve more and help the Cowboys continue playing some of the area’s best basketball.
“It’s been great playing with this team,” Leach says. “It’s probably the best team I’ve been on. It’s just exciting to play with these guys. Everybody gets in the game, and everybody works hard at practice and it’s been paying off in games.
“It feels great because I know my whole team believes in me. If we’re losing by two with five seconds left, they want me to have the ball. But I don’t want to let it get to me and get a big head. I’ve got to stay humble, finish the season and try to get as far as we can.”