When I interview Class of 2023 hoops recruit Leah Travers, she told me, “I’m pretty, like normal.” But after talking with the Calgary, Canada native and her coach at Calgary’s Edge Prep, Elyse Hnatiuk, I soon realized she is definitely not just normal.
She’s a fun-loving, kind teenager who likes to coach younger players, play video games, sing karaoke, and eat Canadian snack foods like Hickory Sticks, but there’s much more to Leah Travers that makes her stand out. Specifically, Travers has a love for strategic, physical rebounding modeled after Dennis Rodman; she is deeply dedicated to film study, and her coach said she is more like an assistant on the court.
Humility is important, and Travers is certainly humble. But the 5-foot-11 17-year-old who shoots 85 percent from the free-throw line and has two pet bearded dragons is not merely normal. On the contrary, she is quite possible the definition of exceptional.
Travers began playing basketball around age 6 or 7 and was hooked immediately. She was always one of the bigger players on her teams growing up, and that helped her learn how to use strength and physicality in the paint to finish around the basket and rebound. However, as others caught up to her size, she transformed her game to become more versatile.
“I definitely see myself as a versatile player, and that’s something that I pride myself on,” Travers said. “I grew up really fast at a young age, and I was always taller than everyone else, so I was put at the post position really early where I got used to post moves, boxing out, and rebounding. Then everyone started catching up to me, so I had to start working on more guard skills – ball handling and shooting.
“I’m a good shooter now, and if I have someone smaller on me, I take them inside and body them around, but if I have someone bigger and slower on me, I take them outside,” she continued. “I love being able to kind of play everyhting.”
Hnatiuk agreed that Travers is a well-rounded player. In fact, the coach believes that with continued ball-handling and shooting development, Travers could play at the 2 or 3 spots, or even trail the 4 position at the college level.
Travers does many things on the court to help her team, but she absolutely excels at rebounding.
“I love doing the little things,” Travers explained. “I’m big on rebounding. I love to get in there and box out. Even if I am not getting the rebound, the girl I’m guarding sure as hell isn’t.”
It’s something her coach has taken notice of.
“She is a very good rebounder,” Hnatiuk confirmed. “She is just very physically strong. At our level, there just aren’t too many girls as strong as she is, and she’s not scared to shove someone out of the way to get a rebound.”
Travers attributes some of her strength to genetics, but she also excels in the weight room.
“I started lifting when I was 12 years old,” she said. “I love lifting. I love looking at the girl next to me, and I’m outlifting her. Being strong is something that will always help you on the court and often gets overlooked.”
Physicality and strength are essential to effective rebounding, but Travers has taken her glass game to a whole different level.
“I rebound very strategically,” she explained. “I know when a girl shoots if she misses long or short. It’s about position; you’ve gotta want it more than your opponent does. You have to get dirty or you’re not going to get the ball.
“I was watching The Last Dance, and Dennis Rodman talked about strategic rebounding and knowing where the ball is going to come off,” she added. “If I could be one basketball player, I would be Dennis Rodman.”
At Edge Prep, Leah Travers approaches basketball from an intellectual standpoint as well. She watched game film religiously and understands the value of evaluating her own performance.
“I started watching film around grade 9. It’s huge. You pick up so many things you wouldn’t notice otherwise,” she said. “I watch game film twice. I watch just myself the entire time once, and then I watch again and I try not to focus on myself. I try to watch the other girls and see how the play moves. Basketball is a team game, and you can’t do it all by yourself.”
Hnatiuk has been impressed with the player’s commitment to film study as well.
“She is very good at watching film,” Hnatiuk said. “Oftentimes, she will go home and watch game film before I even get to it, and she’ll ask me about something before I’ve even seen it.”
At the young age of 17, Leah is wise beyond her years and functions as a coach on the court for her team. According to Hnatiuk, her leadership is invaluable.
“She’s essentially my voice when I’m not around,” Hnatiuk said. “She holds her teammates accountable when I’m not there. She’s really one of my assistant coaches.”
Travers embraces this role as well.
“I am in a leadership position at this point at Edge Prep, and I am the coach on the court,” she said.
Recruiting is beginning to pick up for Travers. Several Division I programs in the United States are taking notice of the Canadian baller.
“I have good relationships with California schools, some Ivies, and UNC Wilmington,” Travers explained. “The recruiting process is kind of a roller coaster, but it’s been a blast.”
Deciding on a college can be complicated, but Travers has a good idea what she’s looking for.
“I am looking for a university with big fan support where the program does not get washed out by a giant football team,” she said. “I really want a family feel in a program where the team is really close and the coach is open and honest. Education is also very important to me.”
Travers also sees basketball as something that has and will always shape her as a person.
“Basketball is a massive part of my life. Most of my relationships are a result of playing basketball; relationships that I will have for the rest of my life,” she acknowledged. “It’s taught me so many skills outside just the sport piece: how to be a good person, resiliency, overcoming adversity – my character has come a lot from basketball. I can’t imagine my life without it, to be honest.”
Not surprisingly, Travers is also mature enough already to understand that no one does anything alone in life.
“I could not be where I am without my parents, coaches, and teammates,” she said. “You never get somewhere by yourself, no matter how much you might feel that way.”
Sometimes being “abnormal” is a good thing, and for Leah Travers, this is one of those times.
Yes, she is a teenager who likes video games, barbecue-flavored Hickory Sticks, and has two bearded dragons. Okay, the Hickory Sticks and bearded dragons are kind of interesting, too; but overall, Leah Travers is not merely normal. She is an exceptional basketball player and person who will be a positive force and valuable asset for the college basketball program that is lucky enough to land her.