Meyers Leonard sidebar: Leonard already attracting attention from NBA

John Supinie

For the national recruiting analysts, Robinson High School product Meyers Leonard doesn't seem like much of a gamble.

"If you take a chance on a guy and rank him high, when you're 7 feet, athletic and have that character, that's a chance you take,'' said Dave Telep, the national recruiting director for

As Leonard and the other members of the incoming Illinois freshman class - forward Jereme Richmond of Waukegan and guard Crandall Head of Richton Park Rich South - prepared for orientation on June 9 and summer school classes on June 14, Leonard is the one still climbing the national recruiting lists.

In May, Rivals listed Leonard at No. 31 nationally in the class of 2010, four spots ahead of Richmond, the state's Mr. Basketball who committed as a high school freshman. Head, who missed the season after knee surgery, is listed at No. 84.

Scout put Leonard at No. 23 overall with Richmond at 29 and Head at 84.

The talk about the Illini and the NBA this spring centered on guard Demetri McCamey, but Leonard caught the attention of NBA scouts during his trip to the Nike Hoop Summit when the country's top seniors played against the world's best, coach Bruce Weber said.

"When he went to the Hoop Summit, all the NBA guys were talking about Demetri, then, 'By the way, your young guy … .' '' Weber said. "He's going to have some things to learn. Whether it's the NBA or us, you see natural instincts or ability that lot of guys don't have.''

With Leonard's ability to run the floor and those broad shoulders on a 7-foot, 236-pound frame that looks like it can easily carry 25 or 30 more pounds, he has an upside that will continue to draw the attention of NBA scouts.

"Down the road, there's an expectation for him to play this game for a living,'' Telep said. "If he continues to listen, accept coaching and develop, there's a reasonable chance to do that.''

As a late addition to the Summit roster, Leonard had three points and one block in eight minutes in a 101-97 win by the U.S.

Summer school may wait a few days for Leonard, who was invited to the tryout camp for the USA Basketball under-18 team June 14 to 16 in San Antonio. Leonard must first heal from a stress fracture that required him to wear a walking boot in late April and early May. The decision won't come until shortly before the trip.

Richmond and Chicago Mount Carmel point guard Tracy Abrams, a senior next winter who already committed to Illinois, are also invited to the camp.

Unlike some of his peers on the summer circuits, the small-town Leonard is coachable.

"He hasn't come up spoiled,'' Weber said. "He's not an AAU baby. He hasn't been spoiled all the way through, told how good he was. When he gets opportunities, he appreciates it.''

Leonard averaged 18.8 points and 11.2 rebounds for Robinson. The Maroons finished 27-5 and won the Class 2A state title. A reliable post move on offense would complement his ability to run the floor, convert offensive rebounds and contribute defensively. Leonard loves Illinois center Mike Tisdale's old-school hook shot, and he's used Tisdale as a measuring stick.

"He's very skilled,'' Leonard said. "He gets pushed away because he didn't have a strong base. I said, 'This can't be me.' But he can kill you with his outside shot. He's got an amazing jump hook. It can't be stopped. I have to figure out what I can do to be more ready when I get there.''

On defense, Leonard is a shot blocker who will bulk up, because he's not allergic to the weight room. Supervised by athletic trainer Scott Rawlings at Robinson High School, Leonard gained 15 pounds or so each of the summers in his high school career. He weighed 236 in mid-May and set a goal of 250 by preseason conditioning.

"His growth potential is ridiculous,'' Rawlings said. "Not that he'd be this kind of player, but he's Dwight Howard. He has that kind of frame. He can play without losing a lot of mobility at 260 pounds.''

John Supinie can be reached at