email Ehud Knoll

Feb. 27

In the three-point era of college basketball, so often the common trait of mid-major powers is the ability to knock down the trey. Players such as Kyle Korver (at Creighton), Trevor Huffman (at Kent), and Bryce Drew (at Valparaiso) helped lift their programs to unexpected heights and NCAA tournament success, by becoming among the best 3-ball shooters in the country. Now, another mid-major star looks to follow in their footsteps, using accurate 3-point shooting and an uncanny feel for the game to help bring his program to prominence. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Coastal Carolina sophomore guard Jack Leasure.

Who is Jack Leasure, you ask? Check out the nation’s leading 3-point shooters – the guy at the top of the list? Not J.J. Redick, not Randy Foye, not Adam Morrison – but in fact, Jack Leasure. Last season’s Big South Conference freshman of the year, Leasure has stepped his game up as a sophomore, and the Chanticleers have turned an 0-3 conference start into a 12-4 second place finish. Going into next week’s Big South tournament, the team has won ten in a row, including a sweep of first place Winthrop, and this Saturday clinched second place in the conference by winning at Radford for the first time in fifteen years.

So how did a kid from McQuaid Jesuit in Rochester, NY end up in Conway, SC to help lead a basketball resurgence at Coastal Carolina?

Jack Leasure, introduced to basketball by his father at the age of three, was not receiving any serious scholarship interest well into his high school career. A tremendous student in the classroom, Jack considered Ivy League and Patriot programs as his most likely college destinations, but a strong showing at the 2002 Beach Ball Classic, surprisingly won by McQuaid Jesuit, caught the eye of Coastal Assistant Coach Jamie Kachmarik. A scholarship offer from CCU soon followed, and Jack was on his way to Myrtle Beach. Ironically, the summer after his senior year, Leasure was randomly introduced to a girl from Rochester; only to find out she will also be an incoming freshman Chanticleer. The two have been together ever since, making their transition from Rochester, NY to Conway, SC easier and more enjoyable.

Quickly growing comfortable in his new home, Jack showed he would be a rising star in the Big South, helping CCU hand league powerhouse Winthrop what proved to be their only conference loss in 2004-05. His 24-point, 5-of-10 three-point shooting performance was a sign of things to come, and this year Leasure has established himself as the premier long distance shooter, not just in the Big South, but in the entire country. His 118 long bombs lead the nation, and set a Big South single season record, a record Jack hopes to break in the coming years. With 2 more seasons, Leasure could establish an unmatched legacy at Coastal Carolina and become among the finest players in Big South history.

The soft-spoken Leasure would be the first to admit, however, that the ride was not always smooth, with the low point coming in a home loss to Radford on January 21st. As the team’s best shooter, Leasure was holding the ball in the final seconds, with The Chants (pronounced “Shonts”) up by one, looking to ice the game with free throws. Radford sent three defenders at Leasure, and an errant pass led to a tipped ball, turnover, and a Radford winning basket. By all accounts, Leasure took the loss hard, but shook it off impressively in time for the next game at Winthrop. The Chanticleers rebounded from their 2-4 league start to stun the defending conference champs on the road, snapping the Eagles’ Big South Conference win streak at 24 games, with Leasure hitting the clinching 3-pointer in the final minute. Since the victory at Winthrop, the team has flourished, building a 10-game win streak going into the Big South Tournament.

Regardless of the outcome of the conference tournament, the program has clearly turned a corner, buying into Coach Peterson’s philosophy of tough defense, aggressive team rebounding, and utilizing team speed and quickness to overcome a lack of size (the team’s starters are all below 6-foot-5 in height). It was clear that the only way to turn the team’s lack of size into an asset was by utilizing speed and focusing on rebounding and boxing out. Despite the size differential, the Chanticleers are rarely out-rebounded, and have been able to open big halftime leads in many of the games during the streak. On the eve of the Big South tournament, the program looks to take another step towards prominence with a tremendous opportunity at winning the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.

Of course, winning the league tournament is hardly a given, as Coach Peterson pointed out the Big South’s league RPI is far better than any time in recent memory. In addition to the tradition established at Winthrop, programs such as Birmingham Southern, Radford, and High Point are playing well and giving big conference schools a headache on the road. Winthrop is still the favorite going in, but any of four or five teams could string together three wins next week and find themselves in the NCAA tournament in March. Coastal Carolina hopes to be that team, and success in great part will depend on the hot shooting and court savvy of Leasure, a role he welcomes and looks forward to.

A classic “gym rat,” Leasure can often be found working on his game on the hardwood with the team manager, and the improvements in his play have been fast and noticeable. Despite playing off-guard, Leasure leads the team in assists at over four a game, and is among the leaders in steals in the conference at nearly 2 a game. Individual season accolades are sure to follow next week, but Leasure’s focus has always been winning games, and the chance to turn Coastal Carolina into a consistent winner is an opportunity he is not taking lightly.

With a gift for shooting the ball, the key for Leasure has been getting open to fire away, and the coaching staff has been impressed with Jack’s greatly improved ability to read screens and find a way to get free. Leasure has also worked on a left-handed floater, looking to add a dribble-drive dimension to his game. As he continues to improve, national attention is sure to come his way.

As he looks to extend his shooting range, master Coach Peterson’s defensive and offensive schemes, and pick up on the subtleties that turn a good basketball player into a great one, Jack can only see a bright future for the program. Hoping to himself become a basketball coach in the future, Leasure has seen his college career take an unexpected cross-country journey. From a lightly-regarded recruit, Leasure has emerged as the star of one of the nation’s hottest mid-major teams, and this young man is one to watch in the next few seasons. Giving new meaning to the expression “Leasure Time”, this Rochester Rifle has his sights set on an NCAA tournament berth and a golden age for Chanticleer basketball, and fans of the game around the country would be wise to keep tabs on his continued progress.

Ehud Knoll is a sfaff writer for EMAIL EHUD