Memphis doesn't lack for talent. The Bluff City has brought enough talent to the foreground during the past decade to support numerous high Division I programs. Penny Hardaway emerged in Memphis 25 years ago, and since he reigned supreme in the city a legion of big-timers has stepped forward to carve out their own niche.
Leron Black hasn't captured the city's imagination the way Hardaway did, but by the time he became a sophomore, everyone knew he could play. Florida, Memphis and Tennessee all made pitches very early in the process, banking that the (at the time) No. 20 player in the country would continue to progress.
Black proved up to the challenge in the 2012 summer, and the recruiting attention continued to flow. By the end of summer, he had claimed offers from Baylor, Memphis, Connecticut, N.C. State, Texas, Georgetown, Missouri, Tennessee and Ole Miss.
But he didn't want to mess around. Black ended his recruitment that fall, delivering a pledge to Baylor. The Bears hosted him for an unofficial visit and stole his heart, and in the process they claimed what most had considered a likely regional signee.
But the Black/Bear relationship proved to be short-lived. He reopened his recruitment this past January in an effort to adopt a more methodical approach.
He hit the 2013 travel circuit and played well, but not great. He appeared to encounter some growing pains while fully transitioning into a face-up player, but on the whole he certainly proved himself worthy of top-50 status.
Following the summer, he set up an official visit tour with planned trips to Illinois, Baylor (which hoped to win him back), Indiana and Tennessee. During the process he eliminated Florida and hometown Memphis.
He never embarked on all those visits, however, as he traveled to Champaign in the early fall and committed almost immediately to Illinois.
At 6-7, 215 pounds, Black is very solidly built for the next level. He carries a frame with relatively large bones (as odd as that may sound, it's true), and thus he easily could get to 235-240 pounds. He's also a good run/jump athlete who leaps well straight-up and excels running the floor and finishing on the break.
Along with that, he's a good rebounder who does an admirable job making sure he secures the ball with two hands. His straight-up vertical also enables him to get his hands on the ball for tips.
From a skill perspective, Black is best facing the rim. He certainly possesses the physical characteristics to score in the post, but he's best using his fluidity and quickness to burst past a fellow big man and pull up for short jump shots or drive all the way to the rim.
Defenders must respect him because he wields an effortless jump shot to 15 feet, and he also has improved his three-point range. In today's game, with so many high screens, Black is a natural fit for those offenses.
On the other end, he has the lateral ability to move his feet well enough to defend other big men off the bounce, and he swats away his share of shots.
It's a continuity thing, and we owe an explanation as to why Black dropped approximately 20 spots over the past year. He does some face-up things well, but his body type is better suited for the post. Thus, his game can appear disjointed and some college coaches asked: Why does a guy with that body and that explosiveness want to play on the perimeter?
No one complains when he's burying jump shots, of course, but on his off shooting nights his preference for the perimeter can cause confusion. Long-term, he likely always will have to defend posts rather than wings (his foot quickness is okay, but not wing level), and his ball-handling also would require a significant upgrade for him to play outside on a full-time basis. Thus, adding consistent inside/outside balance is key.
Meanwhile, he's only 6-7 and the 6-9 and taller athletes he encounters can shoot over him inside. Maximizing his defensive alertness and anticipation will be crucial as his career advances.
If you're an Illinois fan, be excited for Black's arrival without qualification. Even if he's a permanent 'tweener, he shoots effectively well to complement strong overall athleticism and physicality.
Whether he can translate his height, frame, athleticism and skill to the professional ranks remains to be seen, but he deserves credit for working so hard on evolving his game toward that end. He's not all the way there yet, but this translation point in his career may prove to be a catapult to greater things.