When Lathan Lieb first arrived at Clovis High School, his coaches thought he was the kind of player who would end up on an NCAA Division I roster. Two years down the road, they’re hoping a few Division I coaches agree.
Lieb, who led the Wildcats in scoring after recovering from a torn ACL the previous season, signed a letter-of-intent Tuesday with Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo.
The 6-foot-2 guard said he chose Otero over McMurry College and Lubbock Christian University.
“When I went to work out with the guys, I felt like I fit in,” said Lieb, who averaged 23.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game for the Class 5A semifinalist Wildcats. “Nice guys, it’s a good school; I could see myself playing there.”
That’s the kind of thing Houston Reed wanted to hear. During his fifth season coaching the Rattlers, Reed had his staff look at Lieb during Clovis’ December game at Onate. Even though the Wildcats (26-3) lost that contest, Reed was impressed with the 6-foot-2 guard.
“We really liked the way he could catch and shoot it,” Reed said. “He’s got a patience in his game that we like. The second thing is he’s got a body. He’s not just a kid who lives at the 3-point line. He goes into the lane and he knows how to cut.”
The Rattlers went 16-14 last season, and play in Region IX of the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Lieb was on the Wildcats’ roster for two seasons, but essentially played one. He suffered a complete tear of his anterior cruciate ligament in the only game he played during his junior season, following his transfer from Dora.
“I think it did set me back, not being able to play and get better, not being able to be seen,” Lieb said. “But everything happens for a reason.”
Clovis coach J.D. Isler said that while Lieb was recovering from the injury, he also took on the task of improving defensively.
“He’d always been a scorer,” Isler said, “but I felt like he’s become a more well-rounded player.”
Isler expects by the time Lieb joins the Rattlers, he may make a big jump because players show the most improvement in their second season following knee surgery.
“I’ve always felt like he was good enough to play Division I,” Isler said, “but sometimes you’ve got to go a different route.”
Lieb shot 51.2 percent from the floor and 71.5 percent from the line in 2010-11, and was named to both the Golden Spread and North-South all-start teams. He was also the most valuable player in District 4-5A.
Reed isn’t concerned with how Lieb’s route forked to Otero. But he knows bigger schools are aware because he heard about Lieb when a Division I coach called him.
“They didn’t make a move on him, but that’s a possibility in his junior year,” Reed said. “A junior college is a place where, for a lot of young players, they can get more exposure and more experience.
“I don’t know how he slipped through the cracks, but I’m glad we have him.”
Nine players from the 2009-10 Rattlers moved on to four-year colleges, but Reed said that number will drop because he didn’t have as many sophomores on this year’s squad.