The first season for new Illini head coach John Groce just got a lot tougher. He’ll be without his big 7 foot post presence in Center Meyers Leonard, who declared for the NBA Draft.
His sounds-like-it-tested-well-with-focus-groups statement regarding the matter:
“This was a very difficult decision because I love the University of Illinois. But I feel the timing is right for me to follow my dream of playing in the NBA and having the opportunity to provide for my mom and family. I want to thank everyone in the Illini program for their support these past two years. It starts with Coach Weber, who has always believed in me.
He taught me so much about the game of basketball and helped me mature as both a player and a person. I will miss all my teammates; we’ve been through so much together and I consider them my brothers. The future is bright here and under the direction of Coach Groce, I know they’ll be successful. Finally, I want to thank the fans for their incredible support. It was a dream come true to represent my state school and play at the Assembly Hall. I will always be an Illini.”
I think I know what the professional scouts told him.
They probably talked about how he’s got great size and strength, and how he has a decent amount of post moves. On the other end, he’s a natural shot blocker/alterer But the first thing they’ll want to know is why he appears to be so soft, and mentally weak.
Even his own coach has called out his mental toughness, and the lasting images of him crying on the Illini bench towards the end of that horrific debacle at Nebraska didn’t help. Also, Leonard had a tendency to really only show up for one half of most games. Look at his statistical splits, it’s striking.
Meyers is still looking like a late lottery pick this year despite his rawness and inconsistency. His height and natural athletic abilities will indeed take him that far. In our latest NBA mock draft, we currently have him at #19 overall to Philadelphia. He would become the first player recruited by Bruce Weber to get drafted.
Leonard scored in double figures 21 times as a sophomore, led by a pair of career-high 22 point outings vs. Richmond (Nov. 22) and Iowa (Feb. 26). He had six 20-point games on the year and was the UI’s leading scorer in 10 games. Leonard ranked third in the Big Ten with eight double-doubles and was the Illini’s top rebounder in 21 games, led by a career-high 16 boards vs. Cornell (Dec. 19). His 60 blocked shots were the second-highest single-season total in school history. He tallied a career-high six blocks in the season opener vs. Loyola-Chicago (Nov. 11).
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