She runs out onto the court after halftime. She stomps her feet on the ground and throws her fists into the air. The crowd roars. The Palestra is ready. The score is 22–21. It’s still anyone’s game.
Al Leslie doesn’t care that she has scored 1,831 points as a Yellowjacket. For Leslie, halfway through this past Saturday’s women’s basketball playoff game, it has always been about her teammates and helping everyone around her succeed.
“What I love most about basketball is being on a team. It’s just working together,” she said. “With basketball, you can always count on your teammates being there. If you fall down, they pick you up, and that’s my favorite part about it.”
But we’ll get back to that.
At a practice earlier that week, the six-foot two-inch center stood next to the bench as she looked down at the Wilson basketball in her palm and pressed her hands into it, solidifying the connection. She watched her teammates, her eyes following their ball at every pass, dribble, and deflection. Leslie doesn’t often lose focus.
As a player who draws a lot of attention, and is almost always the largest presence on the court, Leslie remains calm, cool, and collected.
“She’s one of the most composed basketball players I’ve ever coached,” Head Coach Jim Scheible said.
Initially, the senior started playing basketball as a way to release the bundles of energy she wielded as a kid. She remembers playing her older sister in her driveway. For every time she scored, Leslie earned three points, and whenever her sister scored, she received one point.
Her goal then was to one day beat her sister. Three years apart, the siblings later played together on a team in high school. While her sister ended her career there, Leslie continued on with the sport she calls her inspiration.
Also inspiring her is her family. If you have caught a Women’s Basketball home game this season, you’ve most likely seen Al’s mother, Babette, taking photos from the stands.
When asked about what motivates her, Leslie recalled one of the first games of this season against third-ranked Thomas More.
“I remember the feeling of beating Thomas More and running to the middle of the R,” she said. “The amount of times we’ve run to the middle of that court and upset a team on this bench is just really special.”
A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the senior business major is a people person. She’s constantly cracking jokes, smiling, and dancing along with her teammates. Co-Captain Lauren Deming calls Leslie “hilarious,” adding that her humor is contagious.
On and off the court, she always lends a helping hand.
Down late in the second quarter Saturday night, Leslie signals to her teammates to bring it in. She reassures her teammates, telling them, ”Hey, we’re okay, this is what we’re going to do, let’s execute.”
In the huddle is sophomore guard Brenna James, who later told me how Leslie helped her adjust to college life. As a first-year, James was thrown into the point guard position after the starter, senior Brynn Lauer, fell to an injury.
The sophomore stressed that Leslie always says, “Take yours too,” referencing Leslie’s desire to encourage everyone around her to get involved.
“She makes everyone around her better. She doesn’t care if she has zero points, as long as she’s hitting someone else up for 20,” James said. “She’ll feed the ball to you all day, she doesn’t care, she wants to win. The big W is bigger than the little W for herself.”
James also recalled how when she began college academically miserable, it was Leslie who reminded her that it’s important to love what you’re learning.
“[Al] being able to connect with first-years, it’s sometimes mind-boggling how she can just change it up and reach out to them and find common ground to talk to them,” Lauer said. “She’s willing to share things with people and be open, and she’s very welcoming to anyone who comes in.”
In the fourth quarter, Leslie swipes the ball from an opponent and without any hesitation heaves the ball to Deming. In a perfectly executed dribble-drive motion, Deming nails the jump shot.
Leslie is who Lebron James should be but never is. She is the heart and soul of her team, but her team is also her heart and soul.
“She legitimately has the biggest heart out of everyone I know,” Deming said. “Most of the decisions she makes are about how everyone feels around her. Almost to a point where we have to be like, ‘Al think about yourself’.”
Aside from basketball, an equal love of Leslie’s is her devotion to community service.
“If you have extra time, you might as well go give,” she said.
Leslie currently tutors students who hail from different countries and are behind in the current curriculum at Nativity Prep High School. She’s also taught children how to play basketball in after-school programs and even during clinics that the team runs for younger girls in the area.
“You see Al come alive inside,” James said. “She’s on top of her game when she gets to help others. That’s her thing, that’s where she thrives.”
I asked Leslie what life looks like after basketball, and she replied that while she’s a business major, she believes life is more than just about just stocks and bonds.
“I want to do something I’m proud of doing. I want find something that I’m inspired by.”
With three and a half minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, UR is up by four. It is still anyone’s game.
After the opponent, Marymount University, misses a three, senior Lizzy Atkinson leaps for the rebound. Atkinson passes it to Lauer, and Lauer finds Leslie. Up goes the shot. The crowd watches as the ball swishes into the basket.
“AL LESLIE!” the PA announcer wails.
UR is now up by six. Her shot sends the team forward and it never looks back. At the end of the game, Leslie looks up at the fans and gives them a round of applause.
“Everybody Talks” is a radio show on WRUR’s the Sting that highlights women’s involvement in sports and the social issues that surround athletics. You can listen to it every Friday from 1–2 p.m. on thesting.wrur.org