One thing is for certain. Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers doesn’t need 40 minutes to incite a crowd with a posterizing slam dunk or a big shot block.
At just 20 years of age, the former Robinson, Ill., standout who took his talents to Champaign for two years is getting his feet wet at the highest level of basketball.
Close to 300 fans, many of whom watched Leonard take the Maroons to the 2010 IHSA Class 2A state championship, rode on charter buses to watch him battle the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis last week.
Those fans filled a lower-level section of Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch Leonard shoot around 90 minutes before the game, drawing a big smile to the 7-footer’s face. Leonard obliged by signing autographs up until the very last second his presence was required in the locker room.
“It’s very special. I had my family, best friends here. Just people that I know of in Robinson, people that have been fans for quite a while now. It was pretty awesome to have them here to be able to support me and watch me play in the NBA,” Leonard said.
Leonard is in a positive situation in Portland, playing for mild-mannered coach Terry Stotts on a team with a good mix of veterans and another talented first-round pick — point guard Damian Lillard, the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson get a majority of the minutes at center and power forward, but Leonard can spell them with production at both ends of the floor. Leonard leads NBA rookies with his shooting percentage of 53.3 percent while ranking fourth among first-year players in blocked shots at 1.0 per game.
“I came into a very good situation. I have the ability to learn, but I also have the ability to come in and impact games. LaMarcus has been an All-Star. J.J. can really rebound,” Leonard said. “Our big-man coach Kim Hughes, who I’m really close with, has taught me a lot.”
Leonard has scored in double figures three times this season, scoring 12 twice and 11 once — all during a nine-day span in late November.
“He’s already improved a month-and-a-half into the season,” Stotts said. “It’s an adjustment. He’s still a young player learning the NBA game, learning personnel. My expectations are that he competes and he plays hard and continues to improve.”
An Easten Conference scout expressed doubts about Leonard as a rebounder as the athletic big man got just one in the Blazers’ 99-92 loss at Indiana. The same scout also praised Leonard’s fearlessness on the court, meaning Leonard knows he belongs.
Leonard has skills that will be refined in time.
Against Indiana’s veteran front line, Leonard struggled to deal with the savvy veterans on the glass a couple times. The Pacers’ Tyler Hansbrough got the best of Leonard with some rugged play, but Leonard also showed he can be an excellent weakside shot blocker, swatting Gerald Green’s attempt in the lane with his left hand.
It’s plays like that — in addition to the chiseled frame and the high-flying alley-oop finishes — that have everyone raving about Leonard’s potential.
Portland veteran Jared Jeffries said Leonard’s eagerness to learn and work should equate to reaching that potential.
“His energy, man. He has a great passion for the game and I think his upside is incredible,” Jeffries said. “He’s so athletic, moves well. He’s a really good passer for his size. The biggest thing he’ll have a chance to do from here on out is improve. It’s good working with guys like that.”
Leonard made huge strides from his sophomore year to senior year in high school. His upbeat approach to improving helped him become a blue-chip recruit for former University of Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
He can see that improvement helping him earn playing time in Portland as well. The Blazers rank last in the NBA in bench scoring and 29th in the league in rebounding off the bench. So they could use a little added punch from guys like Leonard.
“He’ll grow into those minutes,” Stotts said. “We’re deep at the 4-5. LaMarcus is going to play [heavy minutes]. … There’s a lot to learn for young guys. The mental aspect of the game is underrated. The veterans that have been around a long time, know the game, know the players, they can see things happening before it happens.”
Leonard is confident his progression as a pro will be steady.
“For a rookie, I’ve made pretty good strides … certainly for a big man,” Leonard said. “It’s all about in-game situations, beginning to understand the game, the flow of the game, how to guard different things, how to score and find different angles on offense, just getting better in general, so I feel like I’ve made good progress. But there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of me. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, always work hard and continue to better myself. I hope for a positive future.”
Leonard is still getting acclimated to the grind of playing in the NBA. The game in Indiana was the last of a seven-game road trip.
“After this road trip, I would say the travel. We had a couple road games, but nothing like this,” Leonard said. “It was an 11-day road trip. It was kind of hectic, a lot of different hotel rooms. Finding good things to eat, staying hydrated, just everything. You’ve really got to take care of your body and stay mentally locked in or you’re going to wear yourself down.”
A pretty good passing big man himself, Jeffries likes Leonard’s feel for the game.
“Every player struggles with the speed of that game. The game is so much faster than college, that it takes you for a while to adjust, for the game to slow down. It’ll do that for him. He’s good enough, he’s skilled enough that eventually the game will slow down and he’ll be every to play at a very high level. He sees the court really well. He knows where to move on the court,” Jeffries said.
While Portland has some young talent, the Blazers find themselves 9-12 and in last place in the Northwest Division. On the bright side, their record was even with the L.A. Lakers through Monday’s games.
The way Lillard is playing along with Aldridge and high-upside guys like Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson, Portland is a team to watch for in the future.
They’ll definitely be watching in Crawford County, Illinois.
“He’s the talk of the town,” said Les Wilson, an assistant coach on Robinson’s state champion team of 2010. Wilson was among the contingent of fans who made the drive to Indianapolis.
“We’re very, very proud of him, not only as a basketball player but as a citizen and a good community person. He can’t complain. He’s playing pretty well. He’ll learn the ropes and get better every year.”
Robinson, Ill., native welcomed in Indianapolis by hometown fans
One thing is for certain. Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers doesn’t need 40 minutes to incite a crowd with a posterizing slam dunk or a big shot block.
ISU win streak at 12
Ryan Keaffaber recorded his sixth save in seven opportunities Monday as Indiana State won its 12th straight college baseball game, holding off a rally by visiting Western Illinois for a 7-4 victory on Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium.
Another Rose freshman making big splash
The Rose-Hulman men’s swimming team received a much-needed boost last season when a talented freshman from Ohio entered to set school records, rack up conference titles and qualify for the NCAA Division III championships. So when the Rose women’s swimming team needed a boost this season, what did it do? Yep, the Engineers found another talented freshman from Ohio to do pretty much the same things.
Metro sports: Indiana State's Abdul-Qaadir honored by MVC again
Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir of Indiana State has been named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week for women’s basketball, the league announced Monday.
Guts, sweat, tears: Sycamores fall to perfect Shockers
No one on Indiana State’s men’s basketball needed to say a word about the Sycamores’ 83-69 loss to Wichita State in Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game.
Todd Golden: Sycamores ran with the best
It’s hard to run with Secretariat. Secretariat, for the uninitiated, won horse racing’s Triple Crown in 1973 and famously stormed to victory in the Belmont Stakes by an unfathomable 31 lengths. Secretariat is widely considered to be the greatest thoroughbred of all time, and his Belmont performance is one of sports’ all-time greatest moments. In Missouri Valley Conference terms, Wichita State is Secretariat.
FROM THE PRESS BOX: Odum rises to WSU challenge
When you’re getting ready to play the No. 2 team in the country — the undefeated No. 2 team in the country and the best Missouri Valley Conference team in a generation — the unwritten rule says you’re not supposed to rile them. That you’re not supposed to poke the hornet’s nest.
Clock problems delay start of Indiana State semifinal game
Time stood still in Scottrade Center on Saturday.
Not by design.
Sycamores advance to Arch Madness title game
No one said advancing to the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball tournament championship game was going to be easy.
ISU women grab share of MVC regular-season title
The preseason Missouri Valley Conference favorite lived up to its expectations, as the Indiana State women’s basketball team grabbed a piece of the regular-season title with an 85-72 triumph over host Northern Iowa on Saturday afternoon inside McLeod Center.
Robinson leads No. 12 Michigan over Indiana
Glenn Robinson scored 20 points, including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1:10 to play, and Jordan Morgan had a double-double in his final home game to help No. 12 Michigan finish off its Big Ten championship season with an 84-80 victory over Indiana on Saturday night.
Michigan (23-7 15-3) avenged last year’s defeat in the last game of the regular season. In that game, Morgan’s tap-in rolled off the rim as time expired, giving the Hoosiers the victory and costing the Wolverines a share of the conference title.
ISU headed to MVC title game
Indiana State defeated Southern Illinois 62-59 on Saturday to advance to Arch Madness championship game.
Ramblin’ On: Sycamores use defensive stops to reach Missouri Valley semifinals
It sounds counter-intuitive, but to go forward in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament you must first get stops. In Friday’s MVC Tournament quarterfinal against Loyola, ISU followed that bit of zen to a tee. The Sycamores never let the Ramblers get comfortable offensively and put a hammer-lock on Loyola standout Milton Doyle. ISU rode its defense to an easy 75-62 victory at Scottrade Center.
ISU baseball looking to carry success home
Indiana State had pitching questions coming into the season, having lost its entire starting staff from a year ago.
So far anyway, those questions have been answered. The Sycamores are 9-1 going into their home opener today against Western Illinois.
Metro sports: Rose-Hulman picks up baseball win
A late run in the eighth-inning broke a 4-all tie and proved to be the game winner for Rockford College in a 5-4 decision over the Rose-Hulman baseball team Friday at the Chain of Lakes Complex.
Indiana State women move within one win from MVC title
Senior Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir had 23 points to lead Indiana State to a 73-71 win at Drake on Thursday. The point guard led four Sycamores in double figures in the win.
Anna Munn, Jasmine Grier and Chelsea Small each chipped in 11 points as ISU shot 10-of-21 from 3-point range as a team.
Sycamores rejuvenated heading into MVC Tournament quarterfinals
Indiana State point guard Jake Odum is sick-and-tired of being sick and tired.
He’s tired of hearing about the team’s three-game losing streak. He’s tired of the Sycamores playing below par. He’s tired of the team not fulfilling its potential.
He plans to do something about it this weekend. Second-seeded ISU begins its Missouri Valley Conference Tournament trek at 7:05 p.m. tonight against either No. 10 Loyola.
Rose-Hulman seniors lead Engineers into NCAA Division III Tournament
For Rose-Hulman’s six senior men’s basketball players, this weekend will mark the beginning of their third and final appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament.
Having left Terre Haute by bus Thursday, Rose (22-5) will open the Division III four-team regional at Hope College in Holland, Mich., today against Wheaton College (19-8) at the unique time of 5:30 p.m.
Coach Jim Shaw’s Engineers are coming off Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) regular-season and tournament championships for the second consecutive year.
ISU women seek top MVC seed
Defense and rebounding are the staples of Teri Moren’s fourth Indiana State team, a squad that hits the road trying to defend and rebound its way to a regular-season conference title. The Sycamores women’s basketball can clinch the No. 1 seed in the Missouri Valley Conference with wins tonight against Drake and Saturday against Northern Iowa.
Nebraska completes sweep of Indiana
Indiana’s slim hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid are all but done, unless the Hoosiers can win the Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska never trailed Wednesday night, completing a season sweep of the Hoosiers with a 70-60 win. The loss ensures a losing conference record for IU (17-13, 7-10 Big Ten) while boosting the Huskers’ chances at an at-large berth.
ISU reserve Smith earns two MVC honors
Indiana State sophomore Khristian Smith has been named to the Missouri Valley Conference’s All-Bench and Most Improved Teams, according to an announcement by the league office Wednesday.
Two Sycamores with Scott during Saturday incident
A Vigo County’s Sheriff’s case report of Brenton Scott’s arrest last Saturday indicated that Scott, an Indiana State basketball player, tried to pass himself off as his twin brother and that two of his teammates were with him at the time of the incident.
Metro Sports: Sycamores to be represented at NCAA indoors
Three members of the Indiana State track and field team will compete in the 2014 NCAA indoor championships March 14-15 at Albuquerque, N.M. Senior Greggmar Swift will represent the men, while sophomore Katie Wise and senior Mary Theisen will represent the women.
Rose meets Wheaton in NCAA opener
Rose-Hulman will open its third straight trip to the NCAA Division III basketball tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday when the Engineers play Wheaton in a four-team regional hosted by Hope College.
Metro: No ISU baseball today; home opener now Friday
Indiana State’s baseball home opener that was to be played today has been pushed back, according to Sycamore head coach Mitch Hannahs.
ISU's Scott booked for OWI, possession
Indiana State men's basketball player Brenton Scott was booked into the Vigo County Jail on Saturday for operating while intoxicated, possession of marijuana/hash, possession of paraphenalia and false reporting/informing.
Odum can't get roll on game-winning attempt on Senior Day
The storybook was ready to be opened at Hulman Center on Saturday.
Down two with 4.5 seconds to go, Indiana State rebounded a free throw miss by Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle. ISU senior point guard Odum timed his dash perfectly up the floor. He released his shot from just behind the 3-point line at just the right second. The shot was true and online.
TODD GOLDEN: Lansing's belief in his team has not wavered
In the wake of Indiana State’s 71-69 loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday, and the three-game losing streak that comes with it, ISU coach Greg Lansing wanted to get one point across crystal clear in his postgame press conference.
VIDEO: Munn has made her mark on ISU women's program
Anna Munn has been a dependable leader in the Indiana State women’s basketball program. Her leadership has helped coach Teri Moren build to back-to-back 10-or-more win seasons in the Missouri Valley the last two years.
Rose-Hulman wins third straight HCAC tournament crown
Tied with Hanover 26-26 at halftime of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men's basketball championship game Saturday night, host Rose-Hulman knew it had a couple of things in its favor.
Rolling along: Third straight victory helps Sycamores tie for second in MVC
Aside from Teri Moren sticking with her pink Chuck Taylor shoes on the sideline for superstitious reasons, Indiana State’s three-game winning streak can be explained by strong play in nearly every aspect of the game.
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- ISU win streak at 12