TUCSON, Ariz. – As scouts discuss San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard's future in the NBA, they'll throw around all sorts of comparisons. Nowhere in their reports will be the most obvious.
Like extra terrestrial. He was probably too short for the league, sure, and his physique resembled Hot Plate Williams'. But those hands. My, those hands. They're the sort that trigger scouts' salivary glands, and Leonard's are dead ringers for the friendly little alien's.
From the base of his palm to the tip of his middle finger, Leonard measures at least 10 inches – the same as Yao Ming, who has got nearly a foot of actual height on the 6-foot-7 Leonard. They're bigger than those of Rajon Rondo, whose mitts are renowned in NBA circles; bigger even than Michael Jordan's, whose hands were a secret weapon.
When the second-seeded Aztecs go against seventh-seeded Temple on Saturday at 6:10 ET, Leonard hopes to summon another of E.T.'s finger qualities – the magic touch – and earn a berth in the Sweet 16.
Before his arrival two years ago, San Diego State lacked a marquee player for coach Steve Fisher to build around in his resurrection of the program. Should Leonard leave after this season – and all indications point to him doing so – he'll be the first San Diego State player taken in the first round since Michael Cage went No. 14 in 1984, and perhaps the highest ever.
Leonard can shoot well, defying the stereotype of large-handed players like Shaquille O'Neal. He's got the lateral quickness to defend. And his ability to rebound is uncommon for a player of his size and at his position.
"He's got the biggest hands we've seen since Chris Webber, enormously big, and that's why he's such a great rebounder," said Aztecs assistant coach Brian Dutcher, who coached Webber at Michigan nearly 20 years ago. "A lot of it is timing and desire, and he's got a lot of that, but he's got more hands. When the ball hits them, it's not going anywhere."
Leonard first realized his gift in 10th grade, when his teammates at Canyon Springs High in Moreno Valley, Calif., couldn't help but notice them.
"During practice," Leonard said, "they'd tell me to get 'em off them."
While Leonard arrived on campus highly touted, his teammates didn't realize the physical specimen with whom they'd be competing. In practice, he would stand at the top of the 3-point arc and hold the ball out one handed, a la Jordan. His ability to grab one-handed rebounds still mystifies them.
"The first time I saw them, I was like, 'Damn,' " teammate Tim Shelton said. "I didn't know people could have hands that big."
Now, they're not as big as Shaq's, whose 12-inch monsters are the size of an outfielder's mitt. Julius Erving's are supposedly 12 inches, too, though that's likely apocryphal. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's measure 10 1/2 inches, reportedly the same as Brett Favre's. Andre the Giant's hands were probably bigger.
The average male's hands measure 7.4 inches, though it's difficult to picture what that 2 1/2-inch difference looks like. So Jamie McConeghy, an assistant sports information director for San Diego State, placed his right hand against Leonard's left. Onlookers gasped, then giggled. McConeghy's fingertips barely reached Leonard's second knuckle.
It was nothing new for Leonard. He's used to shaking people's hands and hearing how his fingers resemble tentacles. As long as they help him score and rebound, he's fine with them. And should his game go cold and the NBA thing not work out, there's always the backup plan.
Allstate could hire him as a spokesman.