Duke basketball: QB may someday play for Coach K

Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski at a Duke football game (Photo by Peyton Williams/Getty Images)
Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski at a Duke football game (Photo by Peyton Williams/Getty Images) /

A few future Duke basketball rosters could borrow one signal-caller.

First and foremost, Fairhope (Ala.) two-sport star Riley Leonard is a three-star quarterback who ranks No. 552 overall on the 247Sports 2021 Football Composite and last week verbally committed to David Cutcliffe. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound unranked hoopster resembles Duke basketball great JJ Redick yet had to choose the pigskin over the hardwood.

Hardy-har-har. OK, so the Redick comparison is probably a stretch — and then some. But that subsequent assertion in the above paragraph is not entirely true either.

First, in fairness to Leonard, he does boast a sure shooting stroke, nifty handles, and decent hops to go along with an advantageous competitive fire. All those checked boxes are evident in the video below, not to mention in the scholarship basketball offers he held from mid-majors North Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Samford, and Missouri State.

Plus, it’s worth noting that Leonard averaged 20.9 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior last season on his way to becoming one of three finalists for Alabama Class 7A Player of the Year. Take a look at his confident game:

Considering all of the above, yes, Leonard could feasibly catch the eye of Mike Krzyzewski as a potential walk-on, à la Reggie Love, a former full-time wide receiver for the Blue Devils who was also a contributing member of three Duke basketball squads between 2000 and 2005.

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And as Leonard admitted to SI writer Shawn Krest this week, the idea has crossed his mind and simultaneously whetted his appetite. That said, he noted that any serious consideration of calling Coach K Court his second home must wait until after he gets his feet wet as a Blue Devil and, of course, would require permission from Cutcliffe (that might be hard to come by should he become the starter under center or even just look on track to do so at some point):

“Somebody mentioned [the thought of being a Duke basketball walk-on] to me. I told them that’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten in my life. If [Cutcliffe] lets me, maybe my sophomore year, once I get to know football and get to know the offense. It’s a long shot, for sure, especially at Duke. Who knows? If I’ve still got it by then, and Coach K wants to give me a shot, who knows? I may end up trying it.”

Duke basketball dreams may prove too strong for Riley Leonard to ignore

Keep in mind that it was only back in early April when Leonard informed AL.com reporter Ben Thomas of his considerable indecision over whether to choose football or basketball:

“I wish I knew, and I wish one sport was pulling me harder. But right now, I’m still indecisive. It’s hard. A lot of coaches are asking me that question, and I try to give them a truthful answer. But, honestly, right now I just don’t know…I’m just going to enjoy the process and let the Lord lead me.”

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At that time, Fairfield football head coach Tim Clark suggested to Thomas that Leonard should at least be open to pursuing both athletic endeavors as a collegian:

“He probably has the most realistic chance to have a Division I career in two sports [of any athletes I’ve coached]…Riley has said all along — and I’ve encouraged this — that he just wants to play both sports and enjoy his high school career, and it will work itself out in the end…I think he will have a choice to make. He’s often said he sees himself playing college football, but he definitely hasn’t ruled out basketball.”

Following Leonard’s Duke football commitment, here’s how his individual QB coach, David Morris, described the overall person to 247Sports:

“Great athlete…best basketball player in South Alabama. He’s a competitor as well as a character kid. He’s tough as nails but has a servant leadership style. Comes from a great family. Riley’s one of the most optimistic kids I’ve ever coached. He has a spirit about him.”

There’s no doubt a Dukie spirit shines through in the sentiments Leonard expressed to AL.com after choosing a college:

“Duke’s a 40-year school, not a four-year school, for me. For the rest of my life, I’ll be able to walk around with pride on my chest saying I went there…I don’t know what it was. I’ve been praying on it and praying on it. Every time I thought about Duke, I smiled. It just hit me differently. I went with my gut. And the rest is history.”

As for whether Riley Leonard ever plays any part in Duke basketball history, well, we won’t likely know that answer until at least the 2022-23 season. In the meantime, the future Blue Devil is worth keeping an eye on, even for those fans who don’t much care about football.

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