In the early hours of the morning July 6, Kawhi Leonard decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers in a decision that shook the NBA to its core, which could lead to a season with more parity than any time in recent history.
One of Leonard's teammates while he was with the San Antonio Spurs was Towson basketball legend Gary Neal, who played with Leonard from 2011-2013. Neal couldn't have been happier to see the love his former teammate got after winning a championship with the Toronto Raptors and earning his second NBA Finals MVP.
"I'm always rooting and cheering for the Spurs, and in the process of that, you're always rooting for the guys that you played with. Kawhi is a very humble and likable guy and I've always wanted him to succeed," Neal said on
Glenn Clark Radio
July 5, just before Leonard signed with the Clippers. "I was rooting for him and I watched every playoff game this year with Toronto. I wanted him to win and I'm just happy for him, me knowing him personally and the type of person he is, just knowing the dedication and the hard work that he puts in. He deserved it."
Neal's praise for his former teammate did not end there -- and he confirmed the claims of others that Leonard is not as quiet as he seems in his interactions with the media.
"The way he plays and performs, he's definitely one of the best players in the game today," Neal said. "I just think his demeanor and personality kind of makes him seem a little different, but the time I spent with Kawhi in San Antonio, he has one of those personalities that once he feels comfortable and gets to know you, he's laughing and joking a lot."
Before making it to the NBA and playing in the NBA Finals with the likes of Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, Neal's journey to the NBA began at Aberdeen High School. He led the Eagles to a state title in 2000. He continued his career at La Salle (2002-2004) and Towson (2005-2007).
"I would definitely say that Towson University has been a huge part of my success," Neal said. "Just getting the opportunity to play at Towson for two years and then get an honor like this years after leaving Towson and accomplishing the things I've accomplished, it's a great honor."
Neal loved his time at Towson and spends lots of time around the program and in the area. He lives in Harford County during the offseason and is often helping out at Towson or at Calvert Hall, where he played his senior year of high school ball.
The point guard last played in the NBA during the 2017 season on a 10-day contract for the Atlanta Hawks. Last season, Neal's basketball journey led him to Turkey, where he averaged 15.4 points per game for Banvit of the Turkish Basketball Super League. Neal hopes to one day make it back to the NBA, but if he does not, he is content with what he has accomplished on the court.
"Of course you would want to play in the NBA. I mean, who wouldn't? But the reality of it is at 34 years old, my NBA career is probably over and I am comfortable with that, Neal said. "I feel like I achieved the most I could achieve with what I was given as far as body, situation and everything else."
For more from Neal, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson Athletics