Entering last season New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion knew that Tanner Leissner was going to be a good player, but he did not know when he would start to see the 6’6″ forward translate it to the floor.
Herrion started to notice that Leissner was going to be a special player, and sooner than he thought he would be, when he posted 17 points in his collegiate debut at Boston College. Leissner produced on a consistent basis throughout his first season, leading the team in scoring (12.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg).
The early success even surprised Leissner, who was still learning how to play outside after dominating in high school because of his length.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Leissner said of his first-season success. “Just the way our offense came, just the screen and rolls, it was creating mismatches and just had the defenses scrambling, so I was put in positions where I could drive.”
It was due in part to Leissner’s presence that the Wildcats turned around and tied a school record with 19 victories. Leissner started in all but one of those 19 wins, their overtime playoff victory against Hartford, and that was for one reason — the freshman suffered an ankle injury that cost him a chance to play in the America East Playoffs.
“It was so tough, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Leissner said of having to be on the bench in the playoffs. “I remember coming in, I did not know if I was going to play or anything, I just wanted to work my butt off.”
“I always wanted to play, and then in the biggest moments of the season, I couldn’t. It was real tough on me.”
Leissner won the conference’s Rookie of the Year award, but last year’s success has distinctly been pushed to the past. The Wildcats know that they will be considered one of the best four teams in the league, with a chance to earn at least one home game in the conference tournament, and they will get every opponent’s best shot.
“It’s motivating just to see how much better we got last year and how much coach Herrion is just into it,” Leissner said. “We want to win for each other and for him.”
The oft-called lanky 6’6″ forward has put time into working in the weight room over the summer to build his game and help as he goes up against the conference’s more physical forwards. Leissner, who averaged 31 minutes per game last season, said he worked on his conditioning over the offseason as well as his left hand.
“If my body is in better shape and better physical condition, I know I can do a lot better this year,” Leissner said. “Just with that step because I won’t be going up against people who are necessarily all stronger and faster than me. I may be equally with them, I feel like that will really help me along with my skill set.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.