Meyers Leonard is a tremendous prospect for the Illinois basketball team. He is 7'-0" and yet is one of the team's strongest players. He has excellent leaping ability for his size, and he can run the floor.
What he doesn't have is all the fundamentals of college post play. At Robinson High School, Leonard could excel without a lot of technique work. But now he goes against crafty senior Mike Tisdale, and it is taking him awhile to adjust.
"Tis has definitely got me. Right now I'm just learning. Not only that, playing hard and try to push him just as hard as he pushes me every day. He's obviously farther advanced on footwork and everything."
It is interesting watching the two wrestle for position in the post. Tisdale knows all the moves and outmaneuvers Leonard, but the youngster doesn't back down. He grits his teeth and tries harder, an approach that might eventually allow him to equal or maybe even surpass his mentor.
"That's all I can do right now. I'm just a young freshman trying to learn."
Leonard played against Tisdale before he enrolled for classes this summer. He was surprised at how much bigger and stronger the senior is now.
"He definitely is, compared to when I was recruited and I was coming here playing. He's up to 252 pounds. I can hold my own in the post, but he gets such good position based on footwork, and now that he's a lot stronger from his work in the weight room."
Leonard is in good shape, but he is often exhausted after his battles with Tisdale. It is strenuous work trying to guard someone so big, but they are helping each other.
"Yeah, definitely. Tis is a very skilled player, and now that he's putting on the pounds it's even harder to guard him. He can shoot the three, shoot the midrange, he's got an unstoppable jumper. Now that he's finishing (around the hoop) it's a lot harder to guard him.
"It's a physical wear and tear every day going against him. But I believe I'm also pushing him. That's good for him."
It is an understatement to say college is different than high school.
"It's definitely a big difference. The skill level is high. I'm just trying to be a sponge, learn everything I can from Coach (Weber), even aspects of the game Tis knows. He tries to help me. I think I've progressed over these last few months. I have some of the tools, but I'm just trying to learn everything from Tis and Coach."
Leonard has an attitude all coaches love. Despite his size and acclaim, he has the motivation of a much smaller player.
"Regardless of the amount of minutes I get, it's gonna be all out. I won't probably be in there as much as Demetri (McCamey) or Tizzie where I'd have to get a breather here and there. So I'll be diving for loose balls.
"I'm just trying to do whatever I can for the team to win. Whatever I'm asked to do, however many minutes it is, I want to be an energy guy."