Relatively unknown, Kyle Leufroy showed up on the doorstep of the St. Francis High gymnasium seeking an opportunity.
Leufroy transferred to St. Francis in 2012 from La Salle High in Pasadena with an eye on earning a spot on the up-and-coming St. Francis basketball team that had made some lengthy strides and appeared on the brink of being a player for a CIF Southern Section postseason berth. With just a year of junior varsity experience to Leufroy’s credit, he knew he needed to reinvent himself in order to compete on the varsity stage.
After a few practice sessions, St. Francis co-Coaches Ray O’Brien and Jeff Stephens realized Leufroy had enormous potential and, more importantly, could be a focal point for the Golden Knights for the next several seasons.
“He had no varsity experience and the speed at the varsity level is just so much quicker,” O’Brien said. “Jeff and I could see him adjusting very quickly and learning, though he did have some setbacks.
“We could see him continuing to improve his game on offense and defense. He kept learning and putting in extra hours to get better. We saw some things right there that you just can’t coach.”
Leufroy enjoyed a successful sophomore season in 2012-13 with the Golden Knights before registering a bench mark junior campaign. St. Francis advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division III-A championship game for the first time in program history before reaching the second round of the state playoffs.
With Leufroy leading the charge, along with a talented supporting cast, St. Francis turned the corner and made a name for itself around Southern California. No longer were the Golden Knights a doormat in the rugged Mission League or a postseason pushover.
Leufroy, a guard, had helped elevate the program and provide it with instant credibility.
“I figured I could come to St. Francis and help make the program that much stronger,” Leufroy said. “I knew St. Francis was a perfect place for me to go to because it’s in a great league, there’s lots of exposure and they always seem to play good teams.
“I knew a couple of the players already and the coaches want to always work with you to make you better.”
In no time, Leufroy began to flourish.
This season, Leufroy averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and four assists per game en route to being named to the All-Mission League and All-CIF Southern Section Division III-A first teams. It was Leufroy’s stellar campaign that led him to being selected as the 2014 All-Area Boys' Basketball Player of the Year by the sportswriters of the Glendale News-Press, La Cañada Valley Sun and Burbank Leader.
St. Francis finished 20-13, 4-8 in league to tie for fifth place with Harvard-Westlake. In the postseason, where the Golden Knights had earned an at-large entry and the second seed, Leufroy and company posted playoff victories against Yucca Valley, San Dimas, 10th-seeded Gladstone and third-seeded La Cañada before losing to fourth-seeded Oak Park in the championship game. St. Francis then made its inaugural appearance in the state tournament, splitting a pair of road games. It knocked off San Diego Kearny in the first round before being eliminated by Santa Margarita.
“Last year wasn’t a bad one,” said Leufroy, who secured All-Area second-team accolades last season. “It turned out to be a pretty good season and we did some good things.
“This year, I wanted to work on being more efficient. I thought we were a much better all-around team, though we had some tough losses in league. Though we didn’t achieve our top goal of winning CIF, we still had a great season.”
Leufroy proved an integral part of St. Francis’ postseason success. After the Golden Knights finished 1-5 in the second half of league action, the Golden Knights regrouped for the postseason.
They survived against Yucca Valley on the road in an opening-round game with Leufroy scoring four of his game-high 27 points in overtime to help the Golden Knights pick up a 63-59 win.
Against San Dimas, Leufroy finished with a team-high 22 points.
Leufroy then struggled with his shooting in a quarterfinal home contest against Gladstone. He made just five of 20 shots from the floor, but scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to propel St. Francis to a 55-43 win.
Leufroy and the Golden Knights then met neighbor La Cañada in a semifinal game at Maranatha High in Pasadena. In front of more than 1,500 fans, Leufroy grabbed the spotlight once again in the fourth quarter. He collected eight of his 22 points in the final eight minutes to spark the Golden Knights to a 56-53 victory.
Veteran La Cañada Coach Tom Hofman, who guided the Spartans to CIF-SS championships in 1992 and 2011, said Leufroy proved to be the biggest difference maker in the close contest.
“In a tight game, he can take over,” said Hofman, a former All-Area Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year who has 613 career victories with La Cañada, of Leufroy. “That’s always a nice luxury to have somebody who can do that.
“He was definitely valuable throughout the season for St. Francis. Kyle was certainly the difference in our playoff game with them.”
In the championship game against Oak Park at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Event Center, Leufroy suffered a right-ankle injury about two minutes into the first quarter. Noticeably hindered by the injury, Leufroy battled through the pain and led the Golden Knights with a team-high 26 points. After St. Francis pulled to within 53-50 on a layup by Dylan Crawford with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter, an alert Leufroy then stole the inbound pass near mid-court, took a couple of dribbles and was fouled on a three-point attempt. He made all three free throws to knot it at 53 with 27.5 seconds remaining before Oak Park closed out on a 7-0 run to post a 60-53 victory.
“It was amazing to make those three free throws and I really thought we’d come all the way back to win it,” Leufroy said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it out.”
Perhaps Leufroy and the Golden Knights will get another crack at taking part in a championship game next season.
“He knows what he needs to do to get that much better for next season,” O’Brien said. “He’s a pretty humble person and he’s very determined.
“I’m just grateful to be a bystander and see all of the things he can do so well out there on the court. Everybody knows him now.”
Follow Charles Rich on Twitter: @TCNCharlesRich .