When former Liberty High basketball star Rob Leavitt first played the game his freshman year, his high school teammates nicknamed him "Bird" because he appeared a bit awkward on the court.
Now a junior at Shepherd College in West Virginia, Leavitt is in his third year as a college starter and is flying high.
"I played baseball first. Then I tried out for basketball my freshman year (at Liberty) and made the junior varsity team. I ended up playing seven games of varsity that year," Leavitt said, a two-year All-Central Maryland selection and All-Carroll County selection in basketball.
"Basketball is a different game," he said. "There is all kind of action. It took me a while to catch on. By my junior year I developed my game, and I'm still working on improving."
Former Liberty basketball coach Ted Burnett attributes Leavitt's success in basketball to his athletic ability and positive work ethic.
"He's an excellent athlete and was always willing to accept open criticism and work on taking that step forward in practice to improve. He never could work hard enough," Burnett said.
At Liberty, Leavitt was a three-year letter winner in both basketball and baseball and a two-year letter winner in cross country.
His senior year, he averaged 22 points and eight rebounds each basketball game and had a 1.38 earned-run average as a pitcher. He was selected most valuable player on both teams.
This year at Shepherd, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound power forward is averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds a game.
Shepherd, under third-year coach Ron Gerlufsen, was admitted to the NCAA Division II ranks last March and is off to one of its best starts in recent yearsat 7-4.
"The team is playing well -- we are more experienced now,having played a year together, and have added some freshman," Leavitt said.
He began his career at Shepherd as a center his freshman year, often facing bigger players. He showed he could play with the big boys in a game against Davis & Elkins that season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
But he said he is more comfortable playing the more familiar forward position.
"Now, I don't have to play the biggest player and have more opportunities offensively at forward. My freshman year, I played against a 7-footer," he said.
After10-18 and 5-23 records in his first two years at Shepherd, the team is on the right track and will continue to improve, Leavitt said.
"At the beginning of the year, the coaches (of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) picked us down at the bottom, which has pumped us up," he said.
The latest conference standings have them fourth out of the 13 WVIAC teams, and Leavitt said the team couldgo even further in the future.
"Next year, we have a good shot atwinning the (conference) championship," he said. "We all will have worked together for two years."
Leavitt enjoys mixing it up inside and says he must still work on a few areas in his game to do his part.
"Basically, I just try to be a team player," he said. "I like the physical part of the game. I need to work on rebounding and defense. The points will come naturally."
With no seniors on the squad and only one other junior, Leavitt knows he must provide needed leadership to the younger players.
"I'm not a screaming kind of a player," he said. "I'm more of a quiet leader who leads by example. I just try to work hard and get the job done."
The sociology major chose Shepherd College on the recommendation of South Carroll basketball coach Jim Carnes -- a Shepherd alumnus.
"Coach Carnes said it would be a good team for me to play for, so I visited and saw them play," hesaid. "I really liked it. They had a packed house of screaming fans,and popcorn was everywhere. It was a neat environment."
Leavitt is pleased with his selection of Shepherd.
"It's a great school. It's not too big, so you get to know just about everybody, and it's nottoo far from home and not too close to home," he said.