A six-year-old first grader sat in the A Gym bleachers playing an electronic game before the introduction of Albia’s basketball players. “Who is number zero?” he is asked. Without looking up and without hesitation he answers, “Beau.”
Like a lot of little kids in the stands, as well as junior high and high school students, moms and dads, Beau Leshen was their favorite during a really fine 13-8 season. Not because of his scoring (he shot 23 times this season and scored 22 points), not because of his height (he was the smallest post player in the league), but because of the sheer energy and joy he brings to the game.
We’ll get back to basketball later. A lot of the little kids wanting to “be like Beau” don’t even know that he is a member of the most storied wrestling family in Albia Community High School history. His uncle Nick was a two-time state champion and had a successful collegiate career at UNI. His Uncle Tom was a state qualifier and an outstanding Division III collegiate wrestler. His Uncle Kevin was a state qualifier. His older brother Brett was a four-time state qualifier and medal winner. Brother Shadow was a four-year qualifier and three-time runner-up at state. Brother Bryce was a state champion and four-time qualifier.
Wrestling was the family business.
And yet there was Beau, jumping center against 6’9 Josh VanGorp of Pella Christian in what would be the final game in a four-year basketball career.
“I started wrestling as a little kid and I mean I was little,” he said. “But I won everything until I went up against a kid that was three years older than me and got pinned. I hated it. I bawled and begged my folks not to make me wrestle.”
And they didn’t. He started playing a little basketball while tagging along to watch his older brothers wrestle, play baseball and football. He was one of the smallest players on his seventh grade basketball team and when Aden Reeves moved into the community his eighth grade year, he encouraged Beau, Jer McAninch and Gage Wilson to give up basketball and go back out for wrestling.
“It was okay,” he said. “I mean I was 80 pounds and did okay. Nothing great, but it was fun to be around those guys.”
He was a 120-pound football player in his freshman year and went out for wrestling, practicing a couple of times. “It just didn’t feel right,” he said. Leshen said his family never put pressure on him to wrestle. “I loved living in the shadows of my older brothers,” he said. “I just didn’t like to wrestle.” He went home after the second practice and asked his folks if he could quit. Both former Albia basketball players, they encouraged him to go back out for basketball.
“I didn’t know until my sophomore year that my dad played high school basketball,” he said.
Believe it or not, Beau fashioned himself a shooting guard as a freshman. “I was too little to do anything else,” he said. A couple of things happened on the way to his sophomore year. He started growing taller and he completely lost confidence in his shot. “I stopped shooting and started passing, rebounding and playing defense,” he said. “It seemed right. I guess I liked being around the guys more than anything and shooting wasn’t going to get me more playing time.” But he had also become a regular in the weight room, greatly increased his strength, speed and jumping ability mostly training for football.
He earned a varsity uniform his junior year, growing past 5’10” on his way to six feet tall. Virtually all of his time on the court was as a JV player, but he and his fellow varsity bench sitters became fan favorites for their cheering, acting and antics along the bench, encouraging the starters. “There were times that I got a little frustrated playing on the junior varsity,” he said. And then with a grin, “I actually put on my older brother’s singlet and looked pretty buff.” The thought of going back out for wrestling faded quickly.
By his senior year he was ready (still only six-feet tall, but a ripped 185-pounds) to replace 6’4” Jon Gualtieri and 6’2” bruiser Trent Garver in the post. Leshen had turned himself into a human jumping jack. In fact, the 6’0” post lost only two or three center jumps against players ranging in height from 6’3” to 6’7”. He became a relentless defender, rebounder and passer. Even when the fans begged him to shoot, he would always look first to pass, which made his four-points against Williamsburg, including a key basket late in the game, so crazy. “It’s probably my best memory of the season,” he said.
The Williamsburg game was also the change in his introductory routine. His name was called last, he jogged toward sophomore Blake Stewart, who dropped to his knees becoming a weight lifting bench. Gage Wilson and Dawson Hermsen went side to side with Carson Stocker spotting as Beau did two “air” bench presses.
He ended up second on the team in rebounding with 101, had 21 assists, nine blocked shots and just nine turnovers on the season. And 22 points on 11 of 23 shooting.
“It’s hard to describe what Beau meant to us this year,” said Coach Kevin Archer. “He was awesome in his unselfishness. He had a good summer and proved he could defend the big guard, but I didn’t know what he could do against a big post. I really thought he might be a situational player. He was so raw offensively, I didn’t appreciate all of what he could do for the team. It turned out he did a fantastic job guarding the post.
“He absolutely understood his role on the team and became the perfect fit,” said Coach Archer.
He has signed a national letter of intent with William Penn University to play football, likely an outside linebacker if he can put on 15 pounds, or a strong safety. He intends to major in sports management. And he has a decision or two to make yet as a high school athlete. Spring is just around the corner and he is considering going out for track or soccer.
But there are no regrets in not taking up the family business.
And if you ask the six-year-old boy in the stands he would readily tell you who his favorite player on a talented Albia boys basketball team is.
Number Zero, Beau Leshen.