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Illini of the Week: Leron Black

Illinois%27+Leron+Black+shoots+a+mid-range+jumper+during+the+game+against+IUPUI+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Tuesday%2C+December+6.+The+Illini+won+85-77.
Illinois' Leron Black shoots a mid-range jumper during the game against IUPUI at State Farm Center on Tuesday, December 6. The Illini won 85-77.

Illinois' Leron Black shoots a mid-range jumper during the game against IUPUI at State Farm Center on Tuesday, December 6. The Illini won 85-77.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois' Leron Black shoots a mid-range jumper during the game against IUPUI at State Farm Center on Tuesday, December 6. The Illini won 85-77.

Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

Senior Malcolm Hill has a theory.

According to Hill, every great team is equipped with a crazy guy.

He’s not far off. Bill Laimbeer helped the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back titles in the early 1990s. Dennis Rodman was a maniac for the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat. Tyler Hansbrough’s nickname was Psycho T, and he was a major reason why North Carolina won the NCAA Tournament in 2009.

While not necessary, having a player with a personality certainly seems to help. Hill claims Illinois has its crazy person.

He wears number 12 — Leron Black.

“He’s very energetic, and he brings another dimension to the team when he’s in,” Hill said. “The emotion he shows — it brings the emotions out of all of us.”

Black has certainly embraced this role. In fact, he says Kevin Garnett is the player he tries to mimic the most. Black says he admires the way Garnett used his intensity during games to help his team win.

During an Amateur Athletic Union tournament at Georgia Tech when he was a sophomore in high school, Black met Garnett and shook his hand. The meeting was brief, but the moment was definitely impactful.

“I’ve been playing with that energy my whole life,” Black said. “I’ve been playing against older people my whole life — people that play physical. That’s just the way I came up playing basketball.”

Black credits playing basketball with his older cousins when he was younger.

And that was the same goal when Black arrived at Illinois — play against the older guys.

While most freshmen start their careers off by redshirting, Black was thrown into action right away. He played in all 33 games for Illinois and started in 10 of them. In his first career start, Black recorded a double-double, 15 points and 13 rebounds, in a 66-57 win against Purdue.

Black was forced to redshirt his sophomore season after tearing his meniscus in his right knee after seven games.

After sitting out for most of last year, this season almost didn’t happen for Black, but not because of a knee injury. Black was suspended for the first four regular season games of this season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault in April 2016.

Head coach John Groce believes Black has learned and grown from the situation.

“It’s a different mindset right now than I think I’ve seen him have,” Groce said. “I would say it’s because he really is appreciative and grateful for the second chance. He’s very outspoken about it that it’s his responsibility to learn and be better. To share his story. To help others. That’s pretty unique for a guy that age.”

When Black sat out this season, Illinois went 2-0 in the exhibition games and 4-0 in the regular season games, but the absence of Black’s energy was noticeable.

While having to sit additional games this year after sitting for almost all of last season’s games might seem like a pain, it was the complete opposite for Black. Rather than channeling his energy on the court, he challenged his energy with his mind by observing.

“Even sitting over there I felt it was a blessing that I’m still here and still be able to be a part of the team,” Black said. “When I did get to play, I felt those four games helped me learn from just watching.”

Black has answered the call for Illinois this season. In just five games for Illinois, Black has become the second-leading scorer, averaging about 12 points per game and team leader in rebounds with eight per game.

He tied a career-high for points against Virginia Commonwealth University, but don’t be surprised if his career-high improves this season.

But Black isn’t focused on that. Instead he does what any crazy guy would do — help his team.

“Whatever it takes for us to win,” Black said. “I’ll keep playing hard and keep playing my role.”

One thing is for sure: Black will always keep up his energy.

 

Matt is a junior in Business

gertsme2@dailyillini.com

@MattGertsmeier

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