It’s early in the season, but Sam Leclerc already has turned in a couple of big games for the Bentley University men’s basketball team.

The former Winthrop High School standout was instrumental in wins against St. Anselm and Bridgeport. The 6-foot-1 senior guard demonstrated his all-around worth against Bridgeport as he hit a key 3-pointer down the stretch and followed that by drawing an offensive foul. He capped his 18-point performance by hitting a free throw and dishing out the game-winning assist.

Leclerc is the lone returning starter from a Falcons team that went 24-8 last season, won its sixth Northeast-10 title in seven years and reached the NCAA Division II East Regional final.

“I’m being more aggressive on offense and looking for my shot more,” he said. “I’ve definitely been taking a lot more shots this year.”

Leclerc averages 12.9 points per game for the Falcons (6-2) and is second on the team in rebounding at 5.4 per contest. Bentley coach Jay Lawson attributes Leclerc’s rebounding stats to “his nose for the ball” but adds, “We’re a really small team. It’s really a group effort.”

Lawson is reluctant to single out Leclerc this early in the season. And Leclerc likewise knows that playing well in December doesn’t mean as much as it does at the end of the season.

“It really comes down to who’s playing the best in March,” he said. “That’s what we’re focused on.”

Since his high school days, Leclerc has been known for a work ethic that extends well beyond team practice, and that hasn’t changed. Lawson worries a little that Leclerc might overdo it, adding “I’m pleasantly concerned.”

Leclerc still gets into the gym as often as he can for extra shooting and weightlifting and tries to lead by example. It appears to have rubbed off.

“I work as hard as I can and stay committed,” he said. “Every day our team is enthusiastic and energetic in practice, especially with the work we do outside of practice.”

After leading Winthrop to the Class C state championship his senior year, Leclerc accepted a scholarship to Division I Bryant University. After a promising freshman year, he saw less playing time as a sophomore and transferred to Bentley. He has no regrets, but all of his academic credits didn’t come with him.

That meant a busy summer during which he worked full time, took classes three nights a week and tried to get into the gym every day. He’s currently taking six classes this semester so he can earn a degree in management next spring.

“It’s certainly been challenging,” said Leclerc, who estimates he gets home four or five times a year.

Leclerc hasn’t thought much about life after basketball.

“I’d certainly like to try and play, but you never know,” he said. “Right now playing overseas can be a tough situation.”

Right now the focus is on the season and getting another shot at a Sweet 16 berth. It will be a challenge in a league in which Lawson says teams are evenly matched top to bottom.

“Certainly we had every opportunity to win a Sweet 16 game last year,” Leclerc said. “Really the only goal I have is to get back to that point and hopefully to the final game.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

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