Travis Leslie toyed with the idea of jumping to the NBA last spring.
But a trip to Paul Pierce’s camp showed Leslie that he made the correct decision to stay at Georgia for his junior season.
Leslie used the camp in Chicago to expand his skills and test himself against a few current NBA players, including a stint guarding last season’s scoring leader Kevin Durant.
“At one point in the camp, I guarded him,” Leslie said. “It was nasty. He turned around and guess recognized who I was, and then went to the basket and got an and-one on me. I was just happy to be there. I got a couple of dunks, but none on him.”
Leslie had a breakout season in 2009-10, averaging 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He became a regular contributor of highlight-quality dunks, including one over future No. 5 draft pick DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky.
But Leslie’s future will likely depend on a position change from a 6-foot-4 college forward to professional guard, which means his ball-handling must improve.
“They helped me with a lot of skills,” Leslie said.
“We did a lot of drills and played a lot of pickup. There were a lot of skill drills and that type of thing. The purpose was to help me work on my game.”
When Leslie matched up against Durant, he faced a player five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier who plays the same wing-baseline position in the NBA that Leslie does in college. Leslie would be a much better defensive matchup for professional guards who are closer to his size.
“He needs to play more in the backcourt just for his development as a player,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “If he can do that, then it allows us to play a big two-guard and Marcus (Thornton) at the three, and with them you’ve got two very athletic wings.”
Leslie came to Georgia as a guard, but his ball-handling, especially under duress, needed work. When Fox was hired after Leslie’s freshman season, he moved Leslie to forward where he would be less likely to face traps and pressure while bringing the ball up the court.
During the offseason Leslie worked on his deficiencies on the ball.
“He’s improved his ball-handling some but he needs to be able to play the game like a guard and not a small forward,” Fox said. “He needs to be able to handle it and pass it. He shoots it pretty well. That’s not the issue. It’s the ability to handle the ball and pass it and make the right decisions and the right reads, so it will be good experience for him.”
Georgia lost starting guard Ricky McPhee, who was a senior last season. Backup guards DeMario Mayfield and Ebuka Anayorah transferred, so minutes are available in the backcourt that Leslie could win.
“Travis is a guy who gets out there and he just makes plays, no matter where he is on the floor,” Georgia guard Dustin Ware said. “Him having the ability to come in and play both three and two for us could be invaluable. He’s been working on that aspect of his game. He’s gotten a lot better skills. I think he’s ready for it. His ball handling between now and last season is like night and day.”
Georgia’s guard rotation this season will be inexperienced with only Ware, a junior, and sophomore backup Vincent Williams contributing significant playing time last season.
Gerald Robinson Jr. sat out last season after transferring from Tennessee State. He will be a junior, but has never played in the SEC. Junior college transfer Sherrard Brantley could also work into the mix, but he also has never played in the SEC.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Ware said. “But I’m excited about it. I’m excited to be in the system for a second year now, so that’s exciting. This is the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve been in the same system two years in a row.”