Kawhi Leonard was a game-changing player in so many ways for San Diego State.
The 6-foot-7 forward averaged a double-double over the course of his two-year Aztecs career and this season helped lead them to an unprecedented Sweet 16 appearance.
Leonard's success also sent a message to future generations of recruits that you can win at San Diego State and achieve your NBA dreams as well. That wasn't nearly as apparent when years ago, the former California Mr. Basketball spurned late advances from larger schools in favor of the Aztecs.
Leonard leaving school for the NBA draft was an expected move that will hurt the Aztecs in the short term as they will be missing four starters from this year's team, including seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.
And it will also hurt that Steve Fisher has lost the assistant coach who recruited Leonard to the school. Justin Hutson, the team's recruiting coordinator, has been hired as the associate head coach at Mountain West Conference rival UNLV, giving new Rebels coach Dave Rice a key piece.
"Justin Hutson is as good of a recruiter as there is on the West Coast," Rice told reporters.
San Diego State might not be preseason favorites in the Mountain West, but the program should have enough for a legitimate defense of their regular-season title. The Aztecs return a top defender in Chase Tapley along with sharpshooter James Rahon. They have an emerging guard in Jamaal Franklin and also add potential impact transfers in guard Xavier Thames and forward Kevin Young. Brian Carlwell, the team's 6-foot-11 center, could be back if the senior pursues a medical redshirt.
Leonard's presence boosted the program's profile and raised expectations. It now falls upon a new crop of players to continue what was started, and the lifelong Aztec will be watching.
"I will follow every San Diego State basketball game," Leonard said in a statement. "I will stay in touch with all of the players and coaches and look forward to following their future successes."