2010 Illini Basketball Commits Impressive

The Fighting Illini basketball team's 2010 recruiting class is shaping up to be one of the best in the country. The trio of Jereme Richmond, Crandall Head and Meyers Leonard all have tremendous potential and will undoubtedly continue to upgrade Illinois's basketball fortunes. And as the AAU season progresses, it appears Leonard may be the real steal of the bunch.

Most everyone has heard how Jereme Richmond is considered among the nation's elite basketball prospects in the upcoming senior class. The Waukegan star is continuing to mature and improve, and some suggest he might be destined for the NBA. He is considered the top prospect in the state of Illinois for 2010 by Joe Henricksen of City/Suburban Hoops Report.

But number two on that list has changed recently. Center prospect Meyers Leonard is beginning to explode on the scene now that more of the national talent evaluators have had a chance to watch him play. Henricksen is especially impressed with Leonard and Illinois' ability to obtain his commitment before his recruiting became a circus.

"I've seen him a couple times this spring. A lot of people didn't know much about him, including myself and some talent evaluators. Illinois offered him about this time last year when nobody really knew of him. I give Illinois a lot of credit because they saw it before anyone else. They got on him before anyone else and locked him up before anyone else."

Considering the quality of Illinois' recent recruiting efforts, Henricksen's praise of Leonard is especially significant.

"I think a lot of the kids they've already got, like Richmond, Head, Tracy Abrams, D.J. (Richardson) and Brandon Paul. But this is the guy they have done their best homework on and best job on because he is now, one year later, a bonafide everybody's top 100 player.

"He has a chance to be somebody who's really special at Illinois because of his combination of height, length, coordination, and the frame that he has. He can still put on some weight. He's still thin and can definitely get stronger. But he's a legit 6'-11 and 1/2", 7 foot.

"And he's rapidly coming along offensively. He's already got a really nice feel for the game for a big kid. Big kids usually develop at a much slower pace and lag behind the guards and perimeter players. Meyers, to his credit, has really taken it upon himself to get better in the last 12 months.

"And now this summer, he could be the guy that really blows up nationally. He's climbing the national rankings. I think he has a chance to be really special. I think he has a chance to be a pro."

That is high praise from someone who has followed basketball in the state of Illinois closely for many years. But the youngster shows definite signs of being a future star.

Leonard made a commitment to travel long distances to play with some of his future teammates this spring and summer, but Hendricksen wonders whether his new AAU team is ideal for helping him develop his game.

"His AAU team is the Mac Irvin Fire, which exposure wise is going to be good for him. But it will be interesting to see the dynamic of the team and how they use him, how many touches he's gonna get. How many opportunities is he gonna get within the structure of their team. There is a lot of talent on that team. I hope it works out for him."

Crandall Head has explosive athleticism, but his national rankings have dropped precipitously lately. For one thing, he has yet to play in an AAU event this spring, and evaluators rank the players they've seen recently over the others. And second, he didn't always perform up to his capabilities with his Crane Tech high school team. At times he appeared disinterested, and Hendricksen concurs.

"There's no question. Some things will have to change for him to become the player a lot of people think he can be. He has to find that inner drive, that love for the game to get better as a player.

"He's got a load of athletic ability, and his upside remains huge. But at some point, it's gotta click for him to become the best player he can be. Right now, sometimes it appears he is bored. He's got to find that passion, that drive that comes from within.

"He's been kind of off the map this spring. There's some rumors about him quitting the Mac Irvin Fire, but I've gotten no indication of that. This will be a big summer for him. But it might be a case where it might not click for him until he sets foot on campus."

There have been rumors that Head and Richmond might both be headed to prep schools for their seniors seasons. Henricksen has kept track of this story.

"Four or five months ago, I probably would have said it's 50:50 whether Head would be at Crane or a prep school. Now, I'm almost 85:15 he'll be back. I do now think there's a much better chance he'll be back at Crane, as I do Jereme back at Waukegan.

"Three or four months ago, I would have thought both of them would have good chances of going to a prep school. Now, if I had to put money on it, I would say they will both be back with their high school teams."

Hopefully, this means both Head and Richmond have caught up academically and are on line to be qualified when they enroll at Illinois a year from this fall.

Contact hoopsreport@yahoo.com to subscribe to Joe Henricksen's basketball reports.

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