• Ben Hall

Following his college career, UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard looks forward to playing professionally

In his final college basketball season, guard Evan Leonard averaged 12.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. His play earned him a spot on the All-Big West First Team.

"Being named All-Big West First Team was just a confirmation to myself that all the hard work and long hours I put in the gym were paying off," Leonard said. "It meant a lot to me because I looked at this type of award as an accomplishment by our team. My team supporting me, and believing in me contributed a lot to this award as well."

Leonard helped lead UC Irvine to a Big West regular-season champions. Although the Big West Tournament was canceled due to concern's about the coronavirus, UC Irvine was the favorite to win. This would've been their second straight NCAA Tournament.

"This has been one of the most unique seasons I have ever been a part of for sure," Leonard said when asked what it was like having his season canceled due to coronavirus concerns. "The day before our Conference Tournament is when everything started to change so quickly. It seemed like every hour something new was canceled or postponed. And to not be able to reach the NCAA Tournament again sucked, but I think the NCAA had us players in their best interest, by the precautions that they had to take."

This was the second straight year that the Anteaters won the Big West regular-season title. For Leonard, it meant a ton to be apart of the program and to help lead UC Irvine two years in a row.

"It meant everything to me to be able to enjoy the success that our team has had with my brothers and experience moments that last a life time," Leonard said. "I came into college basketball looking for a program that would be successful and win championships. Looking back now, and knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do 4 years ago, there’s no better feeling."

Leonard was one of the most experienced players in the Big West. Since his sophomore year, Leonard has started all but eight games for the Anteaters.

"Well, I was able to come into a program my freshman year that had solid senior leaders like Jaron Martin and Luke Nelson," Leonard said. "Going into my sophomore year, once the seniors left, some guys were going to have to step up, and I was ready to be one of the top guys on the team. The challenges and adversity that my second year presented, made me stronger and I thought I responded well to them, which created a solid college career for me."

Jaron Martin currently plays for the Dorados de Chihuahua in the Mexico-LNBP and Luke Nelson plays for the Baxi Manresa in the Spanish Liga ACB. Both players were named First Team All-Big West their senior year.

Jaron Martin and Luke Nelson played four years for head coach Rusell Turner just like Leonard. When asked about playing for coach Turner, Leonard spoke very highly on Turner.

"Coach Turner is one of the best coaches I have ever had," Leonard said. "He truly cares for all his players and supports you with the decisions that you make. The privilege that he gave me to play for him for 4 amazing years is something I’ll always been grateful for. I was able to learn and grow into a better player and a better man under Coach Turner."

In 10 seasons coaching the Anteaters, Turner has won five Big West regular-season conference titles and two conference tournaments.

Now that his senior season is over, Leonard will look forward to playing professional basketball.

"The next chapter for me is to become a professional basketball player," Leonard said. "I soon see myself overseas somewhere doing what I love and enjoying this great sport."

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