Nothing makes me happier than to see an Illini get drafted in the NBA, especially in the top 12. With the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trailblazers picked Meyers Leonard.
He looked nervous and was sporting a blue gingham shirt (that seemed to be the trend) and brought former Illini coach Bruce Weber with him, along with his family members. He also had an awkward hug with a gal that may or may not be his significant other. I do have wonder why he wasn’t wearing any orange, but I’ll let it go. He looked nervous, but didn’t shed any tears. Kept his interview short, sweet and simple.
The last Illini taken in the NBA draft was 2006, when James Augustine (41) and Dee Brown (46) went late in the second round; neither are in the league anymore. The best draft year in recent memory was 2005, when both Deron Williams (4) and Luther Head (24) were picked in the first round. It’s about time another guy from the Orange and Blue made it back on the big list.
The whole season, there was a lot of “will he or won’t he” talk when it came to Leonard. Many (including me) believed that he could’ve benefited from another year of school. However, once the Illini let go of Bruce Weber, it was pretty obvious Leonard wasn’t going to stick around – and who can blame him?
Leonard would’ve been a junior this year, and who knows how things would’ve gone for him under new head coach John Groce. He made tremendous strides between his freshman and sophomore years, and that could’ve just been the beginning. His first year, he averaged 8 minutes, 1.2 rebounds and 2.1 points per game. Then last year, he averaged 31.8 minutes, 8.2 rebounds and 13.6 points; a huge improvement.
We at Illini Nation are sad to see him go, and he’s going to be nearly impossible to replace. However, we are all extremely proud of our Big Guy from Robinson, Illinois. Nothing would make me happier than to see another Illini not only get drafted, but actually succeed in the NBA.
Best of luck Leonard, knock ‘em dead.