Meyers Leonard Impresses Scouts at Shootout

Several outstanding high school basketball players performed at the Assembly Hall for the Shootout At The Hall recently. Each demonstrated exceptional skills and wowed the fans in attendance. Perhaps the player who was the most pleasant surprise for the fans was Meyers Leonard, the slender center for Robinson High School.

Illinois signess Brandon Paul and Joseph Bertrand showed off their immense skills at the Assembly Hall, and so did Illini commits Crandall Head and Jereme Richmond. The latter two are ranked in the top 20 among juniors around the nation. But Illini commitment Meyers Leonard took a back seat to no one.

Meyers demonstrated a deft touch and excellent passing ability. He ran the floor well and showed lateral quickness in defending on the perimeter. And he showed a variety of post moves. His body is slender, but he has the frame to get much bigger and stronger. And he wasn't at all intimidated by the famous surroundings. In fact, his future home brought out the best in him.

"It was a great experience. Just to come down with my high school team was awesome, but I can't wait to play before the Orange Krush. It's just a great environment around here."

The 6'-11", 210 pound junior has gone from obscure small town performer to nationally prominent baller in just a few months. Not long ago, no one knew about him. Now, media throng around him. It is a heady experience for the young man, but he is taking it in stride.

"It's a neat experience. I never in a million years thought this would happen. But of course I hit the growth spurt, my game started developing, everything started catching up. It's a lot different, but I've got to just keep working hard, keep getting better, and work to come here to Illinois."

That growth spurt has been significant, and it may not be over yet.

"My freshman year, I was like 6'-4", and then I grew 4-5 inches by my sophomore year, and then over the last year I've probably grown 2 and 1/2 to 3 inches."

The best players perform their best on the biggest stages, and Leonard probably had his best game of the year in the Shootout. He admitted to some pressure, but he responded to it with maturity.

"You're naturally gonna feel a little pressure with everybody watching you. I'm sure there were people on the sidelines looking at me specifically, but I just try to go out there and play hard, play to have fun and play with my team.

"I know everybody's gonna pick out everything I do wrong. That's actually motivation for me, to know what I've got to work on."

People who evaluate his game must project into the future, when Meyers is fully grown and filled out. The tallest players often take longer to develop physically, and he is no exception. He realizes he still has much untapped potential.

"Yeah, most definitely. I really haven't got to the maturing stage of my life yet. I think I'll get a lot stronger, keep developing my game."

Robinson High School coach Bob Coffman is pleased with Leonard's progress, but he definitely sees areas for improvement.

"I think he's gotten better, and I think he still needs to get better. He definitely needs to get stronger and become more aggressive on the boards, especially defensively. But he's worked hard the last 6-7 months, and he has the determination to get better. He shoots the ball real well, and he's averaging almost 5-6 assists a game. He has really bought into our team concept."

Meyers agrees he needs to become more aggressive. And there are other areas he'd like to improve.

"I need to get a lot stronger and try to guard the perimeter a little better. When I get the ball on the post, sometimes I kick out or look to the weakside when I could have made a move. That and a knack for defensive rebounding. I need to get in there, get my shot and get rebounds."

The precocious youngster received interest from top programs around the country, but it didn't take him long to accept the Illinois scholarship offer.

"When I was in Las Vegas, North Carolina was looking at me. But I've always liked Illinois. I always felt that, if I could go anywhere, this is the place I'd like to go. I really like the coaches here. I like talking to them. And the guys I'm coming in with, Crandall and Jereme, they're both real cool guys. I just can't wait to come here because we can win. I want to get in here and do things. I want us to go places."

That's in his future, but his present is helping Coach Coffman's team concept win games for Robinson. All coaches dream of having a tall star in their program. Coffman is going to cherish every moment.

"It's just great. I'm just glad Weber's not getting him yet. I've got a year and a half left. We're gonna be good, and he's gonna work hard to make our team better and have some good successes coming up."

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