Shake hands with Luis Leao, and it feels like a couple of bones are broken by his right-handed vise grip, so fist pumps would suffice when one greets the easy-going, first All-American in Mercyhurst men’s basketball history.
Leao, a strong 6-foot 5-inch forward from Brusque, Brazil, who did not have a strong supporting cast in his 2012-13 senior season, still led the Lakers to a 16-13 season and a berth in the PSAC playoffs with consistently solid performances throughout the season. Leao, who played three seasons with the Lakers, was selected to the 16-player National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division II All-American team.
Leao averaged 18.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game as a senior on a team depleted by graduation and three top players who were dismissed from the team for violating school policies. He set a school record with 166 made free throws, connecting on 81.4 percent from the foul line. He shot 47.8 percent from the field. Leao scored 1,221 points and averaged 17.4 points per game in three seasons.
Leao played just 15 games in 2011-12, recovering from a major knee injury from the end of the previous season, then a shoulder injury during the season. It was that devastating injury at Indiana, Pa. in the final 2010-11 regular season game that likely cost Mercyhurst, a 20-game winner, its first NCAA Division II tournament appearance.
“Without Luis, we have lost a lot of our firepower, and the Atlantic Region committee recognizes that,” Mercyhurst coach Gary Manchel said at the time.
Leao loves basketball, and said he loved his four years at Mercyhurst, where he was a tough competitor but always seemed to have a sincere smile and displayed sportsmanship on the court. But his priority is to be in the medical field, and as a biology major, Leao has a 3.87 grade point average at Mercyhurst.
“I have contacts in Boston, and I hope to further my education and get a degree in medicine, which has always been my goal,” Leao said after the Lakers lost at Edinboro in the PSAC playoffs, his final game.
Manchel, finishing his 10th season at Mercyhurst, said replacing Leao will be a formidable task.
“He’s one of the best players I have ever coached, and one of the best young human beings that I’ve ever been associated with,” Manchel said. “Luis will be successful and people will be the better for it. He was a special player here, and a special person.”
– Bob Jarzomski