After the big win over Princeton last year, Neil Yanke ’01 put on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” in the team locker room. Chris Leanza ’03 remembers it like it was yesterday.
“We had just come off a bad loss so the win was huge, and we still had faith in ourselves,” Leanza said. “Our hard work was paying off.”
Leanza’s hard work has translated into his becoming arguably the best guard in the Ivy League — and he’s still only a sophomore.
“It’s hard to convince me that anybody will beat me at anything,” Leanza said. “I believe in myself. If you tell me that I am facing Michael Jordan one-on-one tomorrow, I believe I have a chance to win.”
The Parma, Ohio, native is very humble when he says this. He is ultra-competitive and has a genuine belief in himself and his team — something that has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“Chris is a leader by example,” Isaiah Cavaco ’01 said. “He does what he knows he needs to do in order to be at his best when it counts. — He has earned everyone’s respect based on how dedicated to this team he is, and how much he cares about winning.”
In fact, Cavaco knows first hand how dedicated to winning Leanza is. Earlier this season, after a tough road loss, and on a night when neither Cavaco nor Leanza had shot particularly well, Cavaco was about to head home and try to forget about the game, when he saw Leanza grab a basketball.
“We shot in the gym from about 11:00 until 12:45, not leaving until we felt comfortable with our jumpers and had lifted our spirits again,” Cavaco said.
Leanza credits his parents for influencing his work ethic.
“My father always preached that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it,” he said. “He has had a lot of influence on my career.”
Leanza’s positive attitude has also helped him deal with a nagging shoulder injury. After injuring the shoulder last season, he underwent experimental arthroscopic surgery this past summer, which was not completely effective. He will need to undergo surgery again this off-season, and he is not able to practice nearly as much as he would like to.
“It’s frustrating because I can’t practice everyday,” Leanza said. “Everybody has to deal with injuries, though — I am not the only one. Its just hard because you don’t get to put as much into your game as possible.”
Leanza averages 37 minutes per game — almost 11 minutes more than anyone else on the team. The point guard also leads the team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and the Ivy League in 3-point field goal percentage (.422).
“I’ve never seen [Leanza] back down from a challenge, and when things get difficult, that’s when he plays his best,” Cavaco said.
Leanza began playing basksetball at an early age. When he was in third grade, he saw a flyer advertising basketball tryouts. Thinking it would be fun, he decided to go for it.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” he said. “I’ve put all my heart and a lot of hard work into it, and have always tried to be the best player I can be.”
A lot has happened since third grade, both good and not so good. But one thing has remained the same — Leanza hasn’t stopped believing in himself or his teammates.
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