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FEARLESS LEADER: Vandy's Leslie plays with ‘heart of a lion'

Vandebilt Catholic senior Lionheart Leslie (1) leads the Terriers with 21 points per game and 11 rebounds per game. (Photo by Chris Heller/Staff)

Eighteen years ago, Raymond and Patricia Leslie had a feeling that their unborn baby boy would turn out to be a fearless young man.

While eight months pregnant, Patricia Leslie said doctors discovered a tumor in her body, which could have caused serious health complications for her and the baby. She underwent several surgeries before and after the baby was born to remove the tumor.

Through it all, the baby boy was born unscathed, causing his father to come up with a pretty unique name for his son.

"I said we were going to name him Lionheart because he is fearless," Raymond Leslie said. "He's a fighter. He was fighting through it on the inside of his mother. Something serious could have happened, but the Lord took care of him and brought him through. That's why I wanted to name him Lionheart."

Eighteen years later, Lionheart Leslie has lived up to his name and grown into one of the best basketball players the area has ever seen. He is a senior basketball player at Vandebilt Catholic, and he has helped lead the Terriers to three straight District 8-4A championships.

As a point guard, the 5-foot-10 Lionheart is one of the shortest players on the court, but his mother said that hasn't stopped him from battling it out every night with players twice his size. He often gets battered, bloodied and bruised during games, but it has never stopped him from getting up.

"He doesn't fear nothing or nobody," Patricia Leslie said. "He proves himself on the court. He just gives everything he's got on the court. He doesn't like to lose."

Lionheart, who is the youngest of eight children in Raymond and Patricia Leslie's household, said his name perfectly describes his playing nature on the court.

"When I first heard it, I thought it was pretty cool," Lionheart said. "Now when I think about it, I've got a big heart. I'm not afraid of anything. It doesn't matter what it is. I'm going ball hard."

In his senior season, Lionheart leads the Terriers with 21 points per game and 11 rebounds per game. Vandebilt closed out the regular season with a 21-8 record, and it is waiting to find out its first playoff opponent when the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Class 4A playoff brackets are released on Thursday.

Vandebilt coach Henry Washington said Lionheart, who also goes by the nickname "Fuddy", is a key part of the Terriers success with his play-making ability and leadership skills, adding that the star guard doesn't limit himself on the court because of his small stature.

"Fuddy does everything," Washington said. "He rebounds, scores, blocks shots, dunks and plays defense. He is the fastest player on the court and no one can keep up with him. He gets doubled and it opens things up for his teammates. He has the heart of a lion."

During his high-school career, Lionheart said opponents have underestimated the Terriers because their roster is mostly made up of players under 6-feet.

But the Terriers have proved them wrong each time. In the last three years, they have won 20 or more games, compiled an undefeated record against district opponents and are unbeaten in their home gym during that span.

Lionheart said the main reason for Vandebilt's success is because it plays as a team. He said all of his teammates, which include Elijah McGuire, Aaron Smith, Peyton Barrios, Tanner Whatley, Aaron Smith, Justen Harris, Bailey Pere, Malcolm Wolfe and others, have a distinct roles and contribute to the team.

"We go real hard in practice and play as a team," Lionheart said. "We have no individuals as far as a team. We just work to get better. Even though things go wrong during the game, I always say suck it up and don't put your head down and just keep playing. Everything is going to be fine. We're going to ball hard, no matter who we play against."

As a senior, Lionheart said he understands his prep days are coming to an end. Vandebilt hasn't advanced farther than the second-round of the playoffs in his prep career, so he and the other three seniors (McGuire, Smith and Whatley) are hoping their last postseason run ends with a state championship.

"We're leaving a long legacy at Vandebilt," Lionheart said. "We want to add more to it. This is our senior year and it's do or die time. We're going to try to win the whole thing."

Lionheart, who is the younger brother of former Nicholls State women's basketball player Sumar Leslie, is attracting the attention of several in-state colleges and junior colleges for his services on the next level.

Washington said the senior star still has some course work to complete to become academically eligible, but he is confident he will play somewhere, even if Lionheart has to go the junior college route for two years before playing at a four-year school.

In the meantime, Washington said he is already thinking about next year without Lionheart or McGuire, who have both wreaked havoc on local basketball teams during their high school careers. McGuire signed a football scholarship to play at Louisiana-Lafayette next season, and he is undecided on playing basketball in college. 

"I'm curious to see how it's going to be. It's going to be totally different," Washington said. "We'll be more dependent on 10 or 12 players instead of two. Every team around here is still trying to figure out how to beat us. Nobody has yet. They are about to be gone and nobody will ever know.

"We're going to try to go as far as we can go in the playoffs. Hopefully we can send the seniors out with a bang."

While he admits he will miss his high-school days, Lionheart said he is ready to see what the world outside of Vandebilt has to offer.

"Whatever happens, I'm hoping for the best," Lionheart said. "I just got to do whatever it takes. I got bigger dreams. I don't want to see my playing days end after high school. I want to keep pushing. Whatever is out there, I'm going to work even harder to get it."

And those are the reasons why his parents named him Lionheart.

"I'm blessed that God has put him in my life," Patricia Leslie said. "Every time I see him on the court, it's a grace from God. I always try to let him know that anything he does on the court, it comes from God."