Almost a year to the day after C.J. Leslie officially picked N.C. State over Kentucky and Connecticut, the talented forward apparently has reached a decision that should make him a better basketball player and the Wolfpack a better team.
When Sunday's deadline for entering the NBA Draft passed without Leslie listed among the declaring underclassmen, the logical assumption has to be that the 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will be a member of new coach Mark Gottfried's first Wolfpack team.
Leslie hasn't made it totally official yet. He hasn't said on the record he'll be back, and the school's sports information department said Monday that basketball players will not do interviews with media until May 11 at the earliest.
With the NBA facing a possible work stoppage in the 2011-12 season, there's been minor speculation that some underclassmen might duck the draft pool in order to keep alive the option of playing next season in overseas professional leagues.
Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings went from Oak Hill (Va.) High to an Italian Pro League for one season while waiting out the 2009 NBA Draft.
But there's every reason to believe that returning to N.C. State and working with Gottfried's staff should be of great benefit to Leslie, whose potential exceeded his production during most of last season.
Specifically, Leslie needs to make significant improvement on defense, especially transitional defense. His offensive judgment needs some work, too. But Leslie rarely displayed defensive intensity as a freshman. He blocked a lot of shots — a team-best 39 in 30 games — but his on-ball work outside the paint was an ongoing liability on a team that allowed ACC opponents to shoot almost 46 percent on field-goal attempts.
Not only does Leslie need to return, he needs to come back with an improved work ethic and attitude. There's no question that he has the highest ceiling of any player in the program. It's not even very close. But if Leslie is serious about realizing his dream of becoming an NBA lottery pick, he's got serious work to do.
At face value, this is a win-win situation for everyone. Leslie gets a chance to benefit from new coaching direction, and Gottfried gets a chance to develop a player capable of delivering game-changing — maybe program-changing — plays.