Big Man Leonard Getting Squeezed

Life can be tough for a slender 6'-10" high school center. Every team creates defensive strategies to take him out of the game. Officials sometimes appear to permit more banging on big guys, as if they want to even the playing field for the shorter players. Illini commitment Meyers Leonard, a junior from Robinson, Illinois, is getting plenty of attention these days.

Robinson, a small town in Southeastern Illinois, has rarely seen a player of Leonard's stature, and neither has its opponents. Named a four-star athlete and one of the top 30 players in the country, this precocious young man has a target on his back.

"It's a little different," Meyers Leonard explains.

Robinson has already played and lost two close games to Marshall, Illinois, and Meyers has received significant attention.

"They triple teamed me. I have to be there for my team, and they have to be there for me. Every time I caught the ball, they triple teamed me. They don't have a bench at all, but they have three guys that are really good."

Robinson's team is learning how to utilize a big man, and Leonard is learning how to adapt to his unique situation so he can help his team win. He thinks they can beat Marshall later in the season.

"Our team at the high school is getting better every game. Actually, I'm really impressed. I'm happy with the way we've been able to progress every game. We're coming together. We should have Marshall one more time during regionals."

Besides opponents getting fired up to compete against the basketball star and future Illini, some fans try to get under his skin.

"It's not really the people on the court, but a couple fans have said some things. They try to get me off my game."

Meyers has ball skills that allow him to play forward as well as center. But for high school, he must learn to bang on the inside despite his slender, 200 pound frame.

"They're trying to establish me a lot more in the post. That's what everybody would like to do with their big man. I've got good touch. I can shoot threes. I don't want to boast, but I can handle the ball. I used to play forward alot.

"I'm not sure what I'll play in college. I'm more of a long, lanky type rather than bulky. But I can get in there and work the post."

Leonard established his national reputation last summer during AAU ball playing for Team Ramey. He was able to play with others of similar size and ability, which allowed him more freedom to show off his entire game.

"I had a really good summer. Obviously, that's why I sprinted up the rankings."

Meyers knows he must gain weight and get stronger for college, but he still has two years to do that. He is already working hard on his training regimen.

"During the season, we're trying to lift 2-3 times a week. Our athletic trainer at the high school is one of the better guys for me. He's trying to get me bulked up for college. I'm normally around him."

Leonard has been in touch with his fellow commitments, and he is biting at the bit to begin his college career at Illinois and play with the outstanding talent being assembled.

"I'm very excited about the future. Crandall (Head) is kind of cool. I'm down here right now, but I can't wait."

Illini fans in the Champaign-Urbana vicinity can watch Meyers Leonard in action this Saturday at 12:15pm at the Assembly Hall as Robinson tangles with St. Thomas More as part of the Shootout At The Hall.

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