Watch Andrew Leonard during shootaround. The first thing you’ll notice is his footwork. He’ll stab a step into the lane, then pop back behind the line with ease and knock down a 3-pointer. He does it three times in a row, then turns to his coach and offers a nod of, “I told you so.”
The bond between Leonard and Damon Taylor, the head coach of Horizon Christian Academy, is unique. The bond between Leonard and the school itself is as well.
“Andrew is just a good kid,” Taylor said. “He wants to play in college and his maturity and work ethic will go a long way with that.”
Conversely, when Leonard was asked what he’s looking for at the next level: “Find a coach like Coach Taylor.”
Horizon is a humble fortress—players in the past must sweep food off the multi-purpose floor and move chairs to convert the school’s lunchroom back into a basketball court. In a compact, dimly lit gym, they go to work. It’s not for everyone, but Leonard — a senior wing and the tallest player on the team — runs practice like an extension of Taylor, showing the underclassmen through the motions and making everyone feel welcome.
Leonard, with a charisma beyond his years balanced with a sense of humor inviting of a stranger, believes his place with Horizon couldn’t be more perfect.
In the past, he struggled to find his footing. Leonard grew up in Philadelphia; his mother, Tracy, played at California University of Pennsylvania. The family moved to Georgia, in the Lambert district, before his high school career began. An early grower, Leonard felt like he was destined to become a star with the Longhorns.
“I played post my entire life. I’ve always been taller. So I thought that was going to be a fit for me,” he said.
Then came the first round of bad news – Leonard got cut his freshman year. At that moment he was approached by Kantrail Horton, a former player at Iowa State University who works individually with many of Lambert’s players.
“He saw something in me and wanted to help develop my game, so that was nice to see,” Leonard said.
Then came sophomore year. After all of the hard work, Leonard was shocked to find out he was cut a second time. The immense depth of players in Lambert’s bonafide program made it difficult to stay above the crop.
Leonard reflected, initially disappointed, but knew he wasn’t going to give up on his dream, so he transferred to Horizon for his junior season with the likes of former Forsyth Central player Isaiah Laws and another former Lambert player in Liam Dahlberg.
The move worked: The Warriors had the program’s first-ever perfect season last year, 22-0, and won the GICAA state championship. With a deep team, Leonard was forced to play more on the wing than in the post—that began to make sense when he realized he wasn’t going to be taller than 6-foot-4.
This offseason Leonard attended a men’s basketball game at Kennesaw State, mulling over his options to play in college. There he had his epiphany.
“If I want to play at the next level, I’ve got to be a great wing player,” Leonard said. “I saw their guards, they were only a bit shorter than me and the other guys are just so much bigger.”
That realization explains why Leonard loves taking jabs at Taylor about his shooting.
“I bet there’s a lot of people in this county who think I can’t shoot,” he said with a grin.
This season Leonard is leading the Warriors with hopes of returning back to the state championship. They’re 8-4, but in the midst of an eight-game winning streak.
“It’s going to be hard to repeat what we did last year, but with us losing some games early actually took some pressure off. Last season is was all about not losing. This year, our goals are still in front of us,” Leonard said. “I wouldn’t trade this situation for anything.”