Long-time connection brings Leonard to Eastern basketball

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

Jay Spoonhour and his staff did the majority of the work for the men’s basketball team’s recruiting, but it was somebody from Spoonhour’s father’s staff who helped with one of the recruits.

Before Ryan Leonard, an incoming transfer from Santa Fe College, signed with Eastern, Spoonhour had a little bit of outside help from Mark Bernsen, who was once upon a time part of the staff at Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State) under Charlie Spoonhour, Jay Spoonhour’s father.

“Mark coached Ryan in Ireland,” Jay Spoonhour said. “I’ve known Mark for a long time.”

“I’ve known Jay since he was young,” Bernsen said. “I watched him grow up, and I’ve watched his teams play at EIU.”

Along with his time as an assistant coach under Charlie Spoonhour for a couple years in the early 1990s, Bernsen has experience in The OVC: In the later half of the 1980s, Bernsen was on the staff at Murray State, and in 2003, he was announced as an assistant basketball coach at Southeast Missouri.

For the past 10 years, though, Bernsen coached in Ireland.

Enter Ryan Leonard.

Bernsen said he watched Leonard play throughout high school and followed his progress to Santa Fe.

It was this year-long connection Bernsen had with both Leonard and Jay Spoonhour that eventually led Bernsen to alert Spoonhour of Leonard.

Bernsen said he had talked with both; when he spoke with Leonard, Leonard mentioned schools that were interested in him. 

Then Bernsen talked with Spoonhour.

“I told him, ‘I know a guy who’s a nice player- I don’t know if you need him but he’s good,’” Bernsen said.

From what he knew, Bernsen said after that, Spoonhour and Leonard got in contact and hit it off- Leonard himself mentioned that he liked what Spoonhour said when they talked.

Alex Birge, an assistant coach at Santa Fe, talked about Leonard’s capabilities, and Bernsen complemented what Birge said.

Bernsen mentioned that Leonard understands the game very well and is a very cerebral player, and his 6-feet-4-inch frame helps him; Bernsen added that Leonard makes the right decisions on the court, and because of his length, he can guard the one, two and three positions.

“I think he’s the kind of guy you want on your team,” Bernsen said.

One thing Spoonhour and Birge noted about Leonard was his experience playing for Ireland’s national team and how much it has helped him.

With the front row seat to this, Bernsen said that experience was “immense” for Leonard’s growth.

“Ireland isn’t a hotbed for basketball talent,” Bernsen said. “If there is somebody with (Leonard’s talent), they usually play against older guys.”

This is what helped Leonard develop more as a player, Bernsen added.

He also said that Leonard’s father, Ricardo, had a big impact.

Ricardo Leonard played at Old Dominion in college, and after that, he kept playing in Ireland, which meant that Ryan got to see his dad and other older players and soak in that knowledge.

Bernsen added that as Ryan Leonard got older, if his dad and other older players needed one more in a pickup game, Ryan would play; by doing this, Ryan held his own and found ways to be successful, which also helped Ryan grow, Bernsen said.

Leonard’s mother also helped keep him grounded, Bernsen added.

Bernsen noted that Leonard is an all-around great player and person, and he expects there will be a nice connection between Jay Spoonhour and Leonard.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at [email protected]