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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

‘Leigh LeBron’: Gonzaga’s Kayleigh Truong shows off her versatility in bounce back from injury-plagued 2022-23

By Greg Lee The Spokesman-Review

The high school team that Kayleigh and Kaylynne Truong played for had nicknames for them.

“They were ‘Leigh LeBron’ and ‘Lynne Curry,’ ” their coach, Tamara Collier, said by phone this week. “Lynne could shoot it from deep and Leigh was so versatile and could play anywhere.”

When Collier says anywhere, she means anywhere. Kayleigh, at 5-foot-9, was Jersey Village’s post her senior year. That meant guarding 6-2 and taller players.

No wonder Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier refers to Kayleigh as the Zags’ defensive stopper.

Kayleigh believes the seeds to solid defensive play may have been sown in high school.

“It’s definitely a different defensive game in the post compared to guard play,” she said. “It definitely taught me some things.”

The early years

Jersey High is located in northwest Houston, about 23 miles from where Gonzaga played three games last weekend. Collier got to see two of the three games. She’ll be on hand on Saturday when Gonzaga returns to play Rice.

Kayleigh estimated that at least 100 family and friends were in Katy to watch Gonzaga (6-2) beat Liberty and Alabama before losing to 22nd-ranked Louisville on Sunday.

The Truongs are the first Asian American twins to play Division I basketball.

They were determined to play together in college, and Collier remembers that Notre Dame and many Ivy League schools recruited them before they chose Gonzaga.

They were four-year starters at Jersey Village, where they joined forces with Collier to turn around a floundering program. Jersey Village went 63-9 in the Truongs’ junior and senior years.

“They were the reason we turned the program around,” said Collier, who now coaches at a school in Katy, where the Zags played last weekend.

Collier recalls fondly the twins’ impact on her program.

“I appreciate Leigh’s drive and willingness to do everything, to do her best for the team,” Collier said. “She was poised. She made sure everybody on her team was better. She got everybody else the shots they needed. She was a very unselfish player. Her versatility was better than Lynne’s; she was my best passer by far. I trusted Leigh’s judgment.”

Collier gave specific praise to the twins’ father.

“I give credit to their dad,” she said. “He started them in the game of basketball and developed their skills.”

Last season

What many who follow Gonzaga basketball might forget is that Kayleigh was a West Coast Conference first-team selection two years ago as a junior.

So she was in her second year as a starter last season when she injured her right ankle and missed 23 games, essentially a season.

Kayleigh was a proven player – having logged more minutes than her sister going into the 2022-23 season.

Her departure meant Kaylynne, who was going to share point guard duties with her last year, had to shoulder more responsibility. Kaylynne shone, earning WCC Player of the Year.

Kayleigh wouldn’t discuss personal goals going into this season. But those who knew about her included her with Kaylynne and teammates Yvonne Ejim and Brynna Maxwell on the preseason WCC first team.

Judging by the start of the season, though, it’s obvious that Kayleigh Truong is back to being the Kayleigh Truong fans watched two years ago.

Fast start

It could be argued that Leigh LeBron has been Leigh Curry so far. She’s the second-leading scorer at 14.8 points per game.

Kayleigh has no problem deferring to her sister.

“Lynne’s always been the better shooter,” she said. “I’m still chasing her. She helps me get better. I’m grateful. Even in high school, I was either the post or a facilitating guard. She was the shot maker and 3-point shooter.

“During summer workouts we’d get paired up with Brynna (Maxwell), the best 3-point shooter in the nation. Being in the gym with high-quality people, it’s very easy for you to want to work hard to up your game.”

“It’s good to see, coming off last year,” Fortier said. “She looks like the Kayleigh we had at the beginning of last season and the years prior. She’s playing great basketball and she’s shooting the ball as well as she ever has.”

Fortier said that Kayleigh has benefited from the talent around her.

“She’s now playing with high-level shooters,” Fortier said. “That opens things up a little bit. I think some of the shots she’s getting are not more open, just more in rhythm because we are so good at sharing the ball.”

While early returns would suggest that Kayleigh is as good a shooter as her sister, Kayleigh says it’s not true.

Collier agrees.

“If I needed somebody to knock down a shot, it was Lynne,” Collier said.

Just deserts

Kayleigh’s teammates are excited by her early contributions.

“I’m really happy for Leigh,” said Eliza Hollingsworth, a returning starter and, along with the twins, one of four graduates who chose to return. “It’s nice for her to get her time to shine. She’s showing what she’s been working on and what she can do.”

Fortier said Kayleigh’s play is exactly what she expected a year ago before the injury interrupted her career.

“This is kind of what we were expecting of her in going into what would have been her fourth year, her senior year (last season),” Fortier said.

Fortier said it’s obvious Kayleigh was inspired coming into this season.

“She’s spent a lot of time working on her perimeter shooting,” Fortier said. “She’s been OK from the perimeter in the past, but she’s turned herself into a very formidable shooter. … An injury drives you and motivates you. She’s certainly playing motivated right now.”

Kayleigh didn’t enjoy sitting on the bench last year.

“I just missed being on the floor with the team and I saw how hard they fought every single game and all the adversity and obstacles they went through last season,” she said. “I’d do anything for this team – run through brick walls or the ends of the earth for this team.”

A breath of fresh air

Kaylynne has appreciated having her backcourt mate back.

“I’m impressed with how she came back,” she said. “I know being out with injuries is very tough. So coming back and feeling like she hasn’t missed a beat, playing like (she did her) sophomore or junior year. I’m just very proud of her and the progress that she’s made.”

It’s been like a weight was taken off her shoulders this season.

“She’s made life a little easier for me this year,” Kaylynne said. “We’ve grown up playing with each other. A lot of people will call it twin telepathy. I don’t know my teammates as well as I know Leigh. It’s nice having her on the court to relieve some of the pressure.”

Kayleigh said her team’s talent has allowed her to play freely.

“1,000%,” Kayleigh said. “We talk about this all the time with coach Stacy (Clinesmith). You pick your poison with our team. If you double down on (Yvonne Ejim) you’re going to leave a bunch of shooters on the perimeter. If you stay out on us (guards), you’re leaving somebody on an island with Vonne or (Eliza) or whoever it is. Everyone on the team is capable. We have different options everywhere.”

She’s not taking her final season for granted.

“Every year I’ve come in with the same mindset – whatever the team needs I’m more than happy to be what the team needs,” Kayleigh said. “I’m happy with the way the season has started and I’m hoping to stay consistent for the team. I just want to keep working to stay where I got back to where I am now.”