Leopards

Carlton Linguard (12) and the TC Leopards face Clarendon today in a quarterfinal of the NJCAA Region V Tournament in Abilene.

College basketball recruiters have flocked to Temple College this season to watch a player who was cut from his middle school team both years and scored 12 points — total, not per game — as a high school sophomore.

“It’s kind of a crazy story,” Carlton Linguard said, describing why he came to TC and also how well he’s played as a Leopards freshman.

Linguard has changed significantly since his younger days. Recruiters from NCAA Division I programs such as Texas A&M, Kansas State, Colorado, Southern California and St. John’s, have come to watch him for one essential reason. The 6-foot-11 Linguard, with a wingspan of 7-2, looks unlike any other person in the gym.

“Carlton has the body type that could actually play in the NBA. He’s tall, long and athletic,” Temple coach Kirby Johnson said of his 200-pound forward from San Antonio Stevens. “When Carlton goes somewhere, everybody says, ‘Man, that guy’s tall.’”

For as much potential as those scouts envision in him, Linguard also has delivered stellar production in his only season at TC before he soon signs with a prominent four-year program.

Linguard averages 13.1 points and 9.6 rebounds and ranks second in NJCAA Division I with 3.7 blocked shots per game. His contributions and steady improvement have been vital for a Temple team whose roster has been decimated by injuries and departures.

The Leopards (24-6) make their 10th consecutive NJCAA Region V Tournament appearance when they challenge sixth-ranked Clarendon (26-3) in a quarterfinal at 1 p.m. today at Abilene Christian’s Moody Coliseum. The winner advances to Friday afternoon’s semifinal against McLennan or New Mexico Junior College. The eight-team tournament’s champion earns an automatic berth in the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

Today might be Johnson’s final game. He’s coached TC to a 715-305 record in 33 seasons and will retire at season’s end. The Leopards, competing in their 20th regional tournament in 21 seasons, seek to end a frustrating drought of no postseason victories since 2005.

Although Temple’s been tested by having only seven players available the last two weeks, Linguard believes the Leopards can extend their season and Johnson’s career.

“It’s difficult. It got to me. I was like, ‘Wow, we’re really this short on people,’” he said. “But as a team, we can still do damage.”

Linguard has soaked up everything about his lone junior college season, from his overall development to the conference grind to playing for Johnson in his farewell campaign.

“It’s key. I got the college experience. I got to play against guys who really want it and I got to play for a good coach. He’s taught me a lot,” said Linguard, who won’t turn 19 until late July. “I’ve learned a lot and it shows on the court. I want to be an all-around player, a two-way player.”

Linguard moved from South Carolina to San Antonio before his freshman year of high school, and he likely wouldn’t have gone to Temple if he hadn’t been teammates with Khouri Perkins, now a TC freshman guard.

“We had heard about him. He’d gone to visit Western Texas and said he didn’t want to go there, so we called him and said, ‘Hey, we’d like for you to come visit,’” Johnson said. “And when he came up here, we realized how good he was.”

Linguard signed with Temple last April, and the Leopards also signed Perkins, a 6-2 guard whose reliable play helped TC earn the fourth and final postseason berth out of the Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference.

“That’s something I’ve always done. If there is a teammate that can help us, we like to sign teammates,” Johnson said.

Linguard received his first Division I offer from Texas-San Antonio after signing with TC. He strongly considered joining the Roadrunners, but Johnson helped him understand the bigger picture. Linguard is a strong student, and Johnson told him that after one season with the Leopards he could transfer to a major D-I program and be there three years, or four if he redshirts one season to add size and strength. Linguard wants to reach 215 to 220 pounds.

“I had a bunch of conversations with Coach Johnson. He gave me the rundown and I still came here,” Linguard said.

His breakthrough was a 28-point, 17-rebound performance in Temple’s 118-106 overtime win at Grayson in the NTJCAC opener Jan. 8. He scored 24 points in a home loss to No. 3 Ranger, then blocked a career-high 11 shots at Ranger and added six blocks as TC dominated Southwestern Christian in the regular-season finale.

“I kind of blocked shots in high school. But when I came here, my timing just got better. It’s crazy,” Linguard said.

Johnson called Linguard’s personality “passive and quiet,” so the coach actually was glad to see him get called for a technical foul recently. Linguard has a deft shooting touch (he’s made nine 3-point attempts), but Johnson said the freshman “still needs to get more aggressive.”

“He has gotten more aggressive, because his blocked shots total has gone up and up. Now, the back side is that’s put him in foul trouble more,” Johnson said of Linguard, who fouled out in four of the last seven games. “He needs to get more aggressive with the ball. We’ve told him 10,000 times, ‘Go score!’”

Linguard has more than 10 Division I offers plus recruiting interest from Kansas and Texas Tech but said there’s probably a 60 percent likelihood he’ll choose Texas A&M. He’s forged a strong relationship with Aggies first-year coach Buzz Williams, and competing in the Southeastern Conference would allow him to play games near Columbia, S.C., where his father and many family members live.

“I didn’t play in middle school. I got cut both years, so they haven’t seen me hoop since I was in elementary school,” said Linguard, whose coach hopes the towering prospect ends up in College Station.

“I look forward to seeing Carlton’s advancement,” Kirby Johnson said. “If he goes to A&M, I can go to a lot of games next year. That’s something I’ve never been able to do. I don’t ever get to go see my ex-players play, because we’re always playing when they are.”