Plenty of Options in Store for Black

Leron Black could prove valuable enough to see time on the court as a freshman and be smart enough to utilize every route to get there.  

CHAMPAIGN — Leron Black's recruitment wasn't without drama.

It just happened that his de-commit, opening back up and new, alright-this-is-it pledge went down early enough that his story didn't have much juice come November.

The antics of Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider left Illini fans more angry about what didn't happen instead of cheering about what did. Black, originally slated to sign with Baylor early in the process, signed his LOI and aligned himself with Illinois while taking a backseat to the last-minute bad news.

Now plenty removed from the emotion of the moment, it's a good thing John Groce landed and, more importantly, kept Black.

It's not everyday a Top 50 player in the country takes a backseat. Never mind that now.

His skill set and abilities could make him valuable during his freshman season.

At 6-7, 215 pounds, Black has the build of a power forward, but is said by recruiting gurus to possess great range to 15 feet and good range from the 3-point line.

Groce plans to put that versatility to good use.

"I think longterm for sure Leron… 3-4, 4-3, can play both positions," Groce said earlier this month.

"For the most part I like guys to learn at least two positions. It makes them more valuable, more interchangeable. You can play different lineups."

Getting on the court will be harder in 2014-15 than in the previous two seasons with Groce in charge at Illinois.  

The roster is deep, returns all five starters and is full of players with varying levels of experience.

Black's potential is obvious. His comprehension will be the key to fulfilling that early.

"Usually in the first year, a la Malcolm Hill, we teach them one position with rare exception on that," Groce said.

Black could be the exception. Hill, in fact, was proof that Groce will adjust. Hill began last season learning only the four in a small-ball lineup. Things changed by the end of the Big Ten schedule. Hill became a starter and also took on spot-duty at the small forward, the three.

"Malcolm's a pretty smart kid," Groce said. "I sense, my instincts told me he could handle it. In practice late in the year he played it a lot."

The same thing could happen with Black next season. He might start out at the four to help provide depth in the paint. But if Groce likes him in certain line-up combinations as a three, look for that to be added to Black's studies.  

"Every once in a while we'll teach a guy two, but I think as a first year guy those guys are a lot more comfortable, confident, don't feel overwhelmed, don't feel like everything is coming at them," Groce said. "I think usually most of the time it's better to teach them one position."

Sure, that method will most certainly apply in November. Just like Hill though, Black could prove valuable enough to see time on the court and smart enough to utilize every route to get there.  

"He's going to give us some versatility, and I think Leron can be that guy down the road as well," Groce said. "How quickly he picks up things will often times determine how quickly we give him more." 


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