Taylor Leatherman’s current statistics are as modest as she is, but senior teammate Sophia Fortner and veteran Wadsworth girls basketball coach Andrew Booth rave about the sophomore’s ability.
“She’s mature, especially for a sophomore,” said Fortner, a Toledo recruit who will lead the Grizzlies into a Division I state semifinal game against Solon on Friday at 6 p.m. at Columbus’ Jerome Schottenstein Center. “She embraces the opportunity she’s been given and goes full throttle.
“And she hasn’t even reached her potential. She’s going to be so good. I can’t wait to come back and watch her the next two years and see how good she is.”
The only non-senior in Wadsworth’s starting lineup, the 5-foot-10 Leatherman is averaging 5.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting .427 from the floor, including .393 on 3-pointers (22-for-56).
Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but the small forward is far from the No. 1 option on a team that includes Fortner, another Toledo recruit in center Lexi Lance, power forward and reigning Gazette MVP Peyton Banks and shooting guard Maddie Movsesian.
Yet Leatherman’s shooting touch, length, versatility and athletic ability already have resulted in Booth getting a number of phone calls from college coaches.
“She’s got a ton of natural ability,” said the 13th-year Wadsworth coach, who is confident Leatherman will get a full scholarship to play college basketball. “She’s in the process of figuring out how good she is. We push her every day, every practice, every game.
“If she believed in herself as much as I believe in her, she’d average 15 (points) a game. That’s not a knock, because she’s playing with a lot of very experienced players. She’s still learning and figuring things out, but when she’s aggressive, we are a much better team.”
Already in her second year as a varsity starter, Leatherman was a bundle of energy — and nerves — when she took the floor for the opening tip in Wadsworth’s season opener against Massillon Perry as a ninth-grader.
“Starting as a freshman was pretty crazy,” she said. “It’s an awesome responsibility. I just wanted to do my best and help the team.
“I thought there was absolutely no chance (of starting). I was just a little freshman. It got me some great experience, but my heart was pounding. I was so nervous.”
With Fortner out for the entire 2016-17 season with a torn ACL, Leatherman averaged 5.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists while shooting .388 from the field and an impressive .424 on 3-pointers.
With a number of other players also missing time due to injury, the Grizzlies struggled through a 13-12 season, but Leatherman, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, was smart enough to know this season could be something special.
“(Fortner) is an amazing player, (Banks) was very good and coming back and we’ve all been working very hard,” the 16-year-old said. “I thought the odds were pretty good (of reaching the state tournament).”
This weekend will mark the end of high school basketball for four-year letterwinners Fortner, Lance and Banks and three-year letterwinner Movsesian. Fortner and Lance were starters on Wadsworth’s 2016 state championship team, while Banks played a big role as a reserve and Movsesian supplied energy off the bench.
Leatherman, on the other hand, was a middle school student watching from the stands. Now she’s in the starting lineup, just like Fortner and Lance were as sophomores.
“When we went to state, she was in eighth grade,” Booth said. “That’s a tough adjustment. All of a sudden, the players she was watching are giving her the ball in spots they want her to shoot it and she’s thinking, ‘Maybe I should pass it back to them.’
“But she’s learning and she’s gotten more confident. She’s on the verge of being the next very good Wadsworth player.”
Booth thinks so highly of Leatherman’s ability that he is strongly considering using her at point guard at times next season. That would continue a rich tradition at Wadsworth, where stars like Cassie Schrock (Eastern Michigan), Lindsay Tenyak (Ashland), Peyton Booth (New Hampshire) and Jodi Johnson (Ashland) — all Gazette MVP winners — went from wing players early in their careers to floor generals as upperclassmen, all while still providing a tremendous amount of defensive versatility due to their size.
Like her current coach, possible future coach Fortner sees Leatherman as the ideal player to continue that trend.
“She has the perfect body type — tall, slender, fast,” Fortner said. “She’s long, she’s versatile and she’s energetic. I think of Jodi Johnson when I see her.”
Also a varsity soccer player, Leatherman is excited about her future on the hardwood and would love to play in college, but right now she’s thinking only about this season. Under ideal circumstances, 2017-18 will end with her senior teammates going out in style — and with her winning a state championship as a sophomore just like they did.
“They all expect the same out of me as they do out of each other,” she said. “I can handle the ball if I have to, and if I’m open I’ll take my shot.
“The Suburban League (National Conference) was our first goal, then districts and regionals. Now that we’ve done that, I definitely want to win state, 100 percent.”
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