DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

McIntosh becomes complete player for XCP hoops

As Leilani McIntosh gains maturity, so does the Xavier Prep basketball team.

It seems that most everything about the junior point guard’s game has picked up, and it is showing in the Gators’ record. They are 8-3 entering the (Mesa) Red Mountain invitational tournament that begins on Thursday (Dec. 28) and runs through Saturday (Dec. 30).

Xavier will play two games on the first day, against St. Joseph (Lakewood, Calif.) at 2:30 p.m. and Vail Cienega at 5:30. The Gators also will face Mesa Skyline on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and host Red Mountain on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Opponents know that the 5-foot-6 McIntosh will be bringing the ball down the floor most of the time, but she has improved in other aspects such as defense, rebounding and shooting.

“Some days, your shot is not falling but you can make up for it in a lot of other ways,’’ she said.

McIntosh is averaging 11.4 points per game, second on the team behind senior forward Montana Oltrogge’s 19.2. McIntosh also averages six assists and 3.9 rebounds. And Xavier has pressured opponents relentlessly on defense, with an average of 23.4 steals for the team. McIntosh is at the top of those charts with an average of 7.4.

Xavier point guard Leilani McIntosh looks forward to a big second half of the basketball season. (Xavier photo).

“When you steal the ball like that, it can help the offense get going, too,’’ she said.

Xavier struggled a bit in the early going, finishing 2-3 in the (Gilbert) Highland tournament, but has won six in a row since.

“If you are going to have that happen, it’s better that you do it early than late,’’ McIntosh said. “We’re meshing together now. Everything is flowing together slowly. We are getting there.’’

She first had the basketball in her hands on a regular basis at around the age of 6. She played on a youth team with Oltrogge and another future Xavier teammate, Paris Moore.

As she got older and a decision approached about which high school to attend, Oltrogge offered McIntosh a suggestion.

“She knew that I was looking around for a school and she just said, “If you’re interested, come on over and take the (entrance) test.’ I got in and so did Paris and it has been great,’’ McIntosh said.

The tougher opponents “make you better, and you need to build off of that pressure,’’ she said.

Some of her biggest improvement has come at reading defenses and setting up her teammates with passes.

“When you make a nice pass, I think it helps to hype the team up,’’ McIntosh said. “I think what also helps me is that I have pretty good peripheral vision. The vision also helps on defense. You want to pressure the other team, be destructive on defense.’’

Although she won’t be a senior until next year, McIntosh is beginning to draw attention from colleges. The two most notable are Cal State-Fullerton and San Diego State.

“But I’m waiting (to make a commitment). It’s still early,’’ she said.

McIntosh leans on the experience of and advice from Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom, who has excelled at every level, college, Olympics and professional.

“She tells me that, “There might be a few coaches coming to see you,’ ’’ McIntosh said.

“Having her as a coach is great. She doesn’t take anything (from players or others), tries to teach good discipline. She stands up for herself and we know she will stand up for us. You can’t argue with an Olympian. You are listening to a legend. She is really smart, too.’’

McIntosh also has an interesting first name. Leilani is not something you hear every day, especially in the desert. It conjures up a scene somewhere on a tropical island. In this case, the last part has some truth to it.

“I was the first (born) and my mom wasn’t sure what to name me. So it was basically my aunt who decided. We have some family in Hawaii and have gone over there a few times, so that is where it came from,’’ said McIntosh, who also goes by the simpler, shorter version of “Lei.’’

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