Ivan Leshinsky: A real late bloomer
The last time we looked, Ivan Leshinsky was still playing basketball. Competitively.
That may not sound unusual, but Leshinsky was performing in the National Senior Games.
He and his teammates performed in the 74-to-79-year-old category.
And if you were in Pittsburgh watching, that was Leshinsky — at 76 — wearing additional knee braces and ankle supports.
“I’m still pretty banged up and recovering from the games,” he told the Eagle the other day. “I took some bad falls.”
His team took some falls, too.
His Bykota (Md.) squad came in fifth out of 13 teams in his category.
“I can still do it,” Leshinsky said. “I still have my hook shot.”
The Senior Games and Ivan Leshinsky were made for each other. In fact, this was the fifth go-round for the Midwood High School grad. “I’ve played in Houston, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Birmingham,” he said.
The tournament, he said, is a half-court game, with two 15-minute halves. “The last two minutes are running time,” he said.
And some of the rules are quirky, he said. “If you’re fouled in the act of shooting, the shooting team keeps possession of the basketball.”
But no one is really surprised that Leshinsky is playing basketball in his senior years. Let’s face it — he was a late-bloomer. He probably has plenty of gas left in his tank.
He didn’t start at Midwood until his senior year. So it’s really no surprise to see the big 6-foot-6 former LIU star playing in the National Senior Games.
The kid who grew up living on Avenue J and Ocean Avenue and later attended P.S. 193 became a basketball star.
But it took time — a long time.
“As a senior at Midwood,” he said, “I must’ve weighed about 170 dripping wet. And I was already 6-foot-6.”
Yet, the 1963 grad was the most improved on that ballclub, leading the squad in scoring and rebounding.
“I never thought about basketball being in my future,” he said, “I was recruited by about five schools, and LIU was one of them.”
And LIU it was. “My brother was a senior at LIU when I was in high school,” Leshinsky recalled, “so I thought it was a good option.”
Let’s face it, Leshinsky didn’t have many options.
In fact, after his sophomore year, Leshinsky didn’t see himself playing much in the future. So he sat out a year and had two years of eligibility remaining with the then-LIU Blackbirds.
“I think I may have been the first red shirt [a college athlete who elects not to compete in games against other schools] in school history,” he said.
So Leshinsky didn’t play at all during the 1965-66 season and came back as a junior the following year.
And again, as a senior, Ivan Leshinsky — just like in high school — started to blossom as a basketball star.
“We had Luther Green and Larry Newbold, and they did all the shooting,” Leshinsky said. “All I did was get them the ball. I started at forward the entire season and averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.”
He played in the 1968 National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden and on an LIU team that beat Bradley and lost to Notre Dame by a point.
In a sense, Ivan Leshinsky is still blooming.
He formed the Southwest Sport and Fitness Alliance (SSFA) in 2018. “I organized and led a group of neighbors and friends to create a framework for comprehensive athletic, sport and fitness opportunities for children and youth in southwest Baltimore,” he said.
And if that wasn’t giving back to the community, he decided to write a book, “Teaming Up: A Memoir about Sports, Work, Travel, Family and Neighbors.”
He also finds time to play basketball.
Not too bad for a late bloomer.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR
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