HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Southern Miss ranks sixth in the Conference USA in defensive rebounding (27.4 per game), out-rebounding its last three opponents which resulted in three wins.
The Golden Eagles’ success on the board can largely be credited to the team’s leading rebounder Leonard Harper-Baker.
"Leonard's just one of those guys that wants to go rebound the ball," said USM head coach Doc Sadler.
"One of the biggest things I focused on when I was at JUCO is just putting myself in the right position for after the shot,” said Harper-Baker, who averages 8.1 rebounds per game. “Just pay attention to where it's going to go and go get it. Growing up, you play against bigger guys, you gotta find a way to get an edge."
Harper-Baker grew up in Detroit, Michigan where his favorite sport was football. It wasn’t until high school that he began to focus on basketball and eventually earn a scholarship to Moberly Area Community College in Moberly, Missouri.
"Just more excitement to [basketball],” Harper-Baker said. “I felt like dunking on somebody or crossing over somebody would be more exciting than running from someone."
Harper-Baker’s brought those dunks down South where he’s averaging 9.5 points per game in his redshirt junior season with Southern Miss.
The undersized 6-foot-5 forward is taking notes from his coach Clarence Weatherspoon – USM’s all-time leader in blocks, minutes and rebounds (11.3 per game) that overcame his lack of height (6-foot-6) to play 13 years in the NBA.
: "Being gritty, being tough,” said Weatherspoon, who was nicknamed “Baby Barkley” during his professional career. “When you're undersized you have to put a little more effort a little more work into it. But you got to have that mentality to go after the ball."
Harper-Baker’s effort and the Golden Eagles’ attitude as a team have the expectations high in Hattiesburg for the rest of the season.
“I really feel like there’s no limits for us,” Harper-Baker said. “I feel like we got the chance to be something real special this year.”