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Can San Diego State remain relevant without Kawhi Leonard?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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One of the best stories of the 2010-11 college basketball season was the way San Diego State breathed new life into a long-dormant fan base with its magical 34-win season and historic Sweet 16 run.

The question now is whether the Aztecs can remain nationally viable in the future.

Sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard's decision to forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft guarantees that San Diego State will have to replace four of its five starters next season. In addition to losing a likely first-round pick in Leonard, the Aztecs also graduate forward Malcolm Thomas, wing Billy White and point guard D.J. Gay, three pillars of their success.

Certainly a big drop off is inevitable for San Diego State, but the Aztecs still have enough pieces to push UNLV and New Mexico in the Mountain West race next season. Top defender Chase Tapley, sweet-shooting James Rahon and emerging Jamaal Franklin all return next season, while Xavier Thames (Washington State) and Kevin Young (Loyola Marymount) will both be eligible.

The ability of San Diego State to capitalize recruiting-wise on this past season's success will be hurt by the departure of one of their top assistant coaches. Justin Hutson, Fisher's recruiting coordinator, has been hired as associate head coach at Mountain West rival UNLV despite a late push from the Aztecs to retain his services.

Even though Leonard sticking around one more season could have provided a bridge for San Diego State to help sustain its success, there certainly shouldn't be anyone blaming the all-conference forward for turning pro.

San Diego State's team success gave him the perfect stage to use to improve his stock. He's making a wise choice leaving now while interest is high.

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