As the Florida Gators basketball team faced freshman powerhouse Ben Simmons and his LSU Tigers on Saturday night they turned to an unexpected source for help, and got even more than they hoped for.
Junior college forward transfer Justin Leon had his best performance of the season thus far offensively, but his defense did the most work, helping to force Simmons into eight second half turnovers.
“With Justin, I’m not surprised at the defensive performance and I know it sounds nuts cause Simmons had 28-17,” explained White after the game, “but Justin moved his feet well; some of the better possessions we had defensively in the game were in large part due to him. He’s a really tough kid…we don’t get those 8 turnovers, we don’t win… it’s not like we were great on him but did a good enough job as crazy as that sounds.”
Leon also grabbed nine total rebounds, with five coming on defense, and drew three charging fouls.
It was his performance on the offensive side of the floor though that grabbed White’s attention, as Justin posted 14 points and four more rebounds at that end of the court.
“Justin was terrific,” said White at the time. “I didn’t expect him to come in here in a big game and hit two big threes for us, honestly.”
And after starting his third game in a row with each one seeing more and more output from the 6’8”, 196 lb. forward, Leon is bound to become a focus for opposing defenses.
The main concern for most coaches at this point though would be the player himself and making sure he doesn’t become quickly caught up in the newfound success.
Luckily for Mike White and the Florida Gators basketball team, this success is novel to everyone but Justin Leon.
“Justin Leon is Justin Leon, from the first day he’s been here to today,” says White.
“Somebody in the support staff, leading into practice [Sunday], suggested we may have to watch Justin carefully because he’s experienced a little bit of success and make sure he doesn’t change with his mentality. [Sunday] he’s out there winning wind sprints and competing at the highest level. That’s what he is. He doesn’t have the most God-given ability on our team, but he’ll continue to be a blue-collar worker for us. I’ll be surprised if gets out of character.”
Leon will look to continue his upward tick as the Florida Gators travel to College Station, Texas to take on the Texas A&M Aggies on Tuesday night. The game tips off at 7pm on the SEC Network and as always, join GatorCountry.com for full updates and coverage.