January 26, 2010

Leslie making name for himself

Travis Leslie admits there are not many dunks that he cannot execute.

However, when it comes to his most unforgettable slam, that's easy - it was his first one.

The way Leslie tells it, he was in seventh grade goofing off with some friends when one of his buds casually tossed the basketball high off the backboard.

Leslie didn't hesitate, grabbing the ball in mid-air before slamming back through, much to the awe of his young classmates who had just witnessed the feat.

"We were just playing around," Leslie laughed, recalling the play prior to practice Tuesday afternoon. "One of my friends just threw it off the back and I caught it," he shrugged. "I didn't think anything about it."

As a sophomore for the Bulldogs (9-8, 1-3) - who return to action Wednesday night at Florida - Leslie continues to open eyes with his high-flying ability.

Rim-shaking slams have become his specialty, like the two-handed reverse dunk he had in the opening minutes against Tennessee.

Already, Leslie has been featured on ESPN's "Plays of the Day" while one analyst on the network deemed him one of the country's most exciting players.

You won't get any argument from teammate Trey Thompkins.

"Travis has a notebook full of dunks. He can go higher than he went (against Tennessee)," Thompkins said. "That's the crazy part about it."

Dustin Ware said Bulldog fans would be stunned to see the many different types of dunks Leslie can do.

"I've seen Travis, and you're not going to believe this, but we have a wall that's probably a good five-feet behind our basket in the practice gym," Ware said. "We've thrown the ball off the top of that wall and let it hit the floor and Travis has dunked it. His chest was over the rim. I've never seen anybody jump like that. He's just an incredible athlete."

Leslie admits that fans haven't seen the best he has to offer.

"I've got a lot up my sleeve. That one I had the other day was just a little preview," he said.

So what would he have in mind?

"I've got this one, I kind of go between my legs," smiled Leslie, who earned SEC Player of the Week honors for his 19-point, nine-rebound performance against the Vols. "But if I miss it, Coach (Mark Fox) might get upset."

Thompkins said fans shouldn't be surprised with any dunk his teammate slams through.
"I gave him a 10 (for Saturday's reverse slam), but I've seen him do 10 times better," Thompkins said. "But we don't need to do those during the context of a game. I'm glad he did the dunk that he's been doing all year."

But Leslie is proving to Fox that he's a lot more than a dunking machine.

Although he's still working to perfect his overall game, Leslie - who enters Wednesday's contest averaging 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game - can get even better.

"When we got here we thought he had a reputation for being a great athlete," Fox said. "We didn't want him to be a great athlete who played basketball; we wanted a basketball player who was also a great athlete, so we've worked hard on his fundamentals. He's worked hard on it and is trying to improve. He's got a lot of growth in him."

Fox said it's scary to think how good Leslie might actually become.

Leslie fell just one rebound and three assists shy of competing the first-ever triple-double in school history during Saturday's game against Tennessee.

The way Fox sees it, Leslie can be as good as he wants to be.

"I think he's light years away. He's playing well, but he's a long, long way from where he can be. That's not a slight on Travis, he's just not as good as I think he can become," Fox said. "I think he knows he can get better and places he can improve. He's a young guy who is playing with a lot of confidence right now and that's good."

He's also matured.

Last year, Leslie was held out of Georgia's final six games so he could focus on his academics.

"School is doing much better now," Leslie said. "I don't ever want to be in that position again. I'm going to do whatever I can to help to help the team."

Georgia at Florida

WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: The O'Connell Center, Gainesville, Fla.

RECORDS: Georgia 9-8, 1-3; Florida 14-5, 3-2.

TV: CSS and ESPN 360

RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network

NOTES: Georgia hits the road for a pair of contests against SEC East opponents Florida and South Carolina this week. The Bulldogs arrive at the Florida game with a 9-8 overall record, 1-3 in SEC play, after picking up their first league victory last Saturday, a 78-63 decision over #8 Tennessee in Athens. It marked Georgia's first win over a Top 10 team in nearly six years, goČing back to a Feb. 14, 2004 win over then-No. 8 Kentucky. … The spoils of the win over Tennessee include the naming of sophomore Travis Leslie as the SEC's current Player of the Week. Leslie scored 19 points and, just as important, added nine rebounds, seven assists and four crowd-stirring slam dunks. … Though the Bulldogs are just 1-3 in SEC play, they have led all four contests into the final five minutes of play. Also in those four games, Georgia has averaged 5.5 more points (72.8) than its overall scoring average (67.3). The 2001 UGA team were the last Bulldogs to actuČally improve their scoring average during SEC play. … The Bulldogs are in the midst of the most difficult portion of their entire 2010 schedule. Since the calendar turned to January, they've begun a month-long stretch of eight games whose opponents have a combined W/L record of 118-34 (.776) and an average RPI of 41.

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