Leonard added to Illinois’ highly touted class of ’10

By Jeremy Werner

Meyers Leonard wasn’t a well-known name to NCAA coaches this spring. But by July, the 6-foot-10 junior was sought after by some of the most celebrated basketball programs in the nation, including Florida, Purdue and Louisville.

But Tuesday, the Robinson, Ill., native decided to stay in-state, verbally committing to Illinois coach Bruce Weber.

“It just seemed like the right fit for me,” Leonard said in a phone interview. “I like the coaches a lot. Academics are good; the campus is really good.”

Leonard became a hot commodity after an impressive performance against a collection of the nation’s top recruits at the Nike Hoop Jamboree in June.

“I don’t think many college coaches knew about him,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels said. “I know Illinois knew him, and they do love him, but he wasn’t a priority by any means. After the Hoop Jamboree, his name got out there.”

Leonard, Scout.com’s 43rd-ranked prospect in the class of 2010, is the third in-state junior to commit to the Illini, joining Crane’s Crandall Head and Waukegan’s Jereme Richmond. Scout.com ranks both Richmond and Head as top-12 talents in their class.

“He’s a really strong addition to their already solid class of 2010,” Daniels said. “They have a really good guard in Crandall Head and a big-time wing in Jereme Richmond, and now you’re adding a guy like Meyers Leonard that’s going to be able to man the post. His future looks really bright. His best basketball is yet to come.”

Leonard, who can sign a national letter of intent in November 2009, took an unofficial visit to the Illinois campus in June and played a pickup game with the Illini. He said he was able to talk with almost all the players and chatted with Trent Meacham the most.

Before an interview with the Daily Illini during Leonard’s visit, Weber told a team spokesman the 6-foot-10 center reminded him of former Illini James Augustine.

Leonard averaged 15 points and 8 rebounds in his sophomore season at Robinson High School last season. The junior center currently weighs about 200 pounds, but Daniels said he has the frame to add plenty of weight and muscle.

“I think what Meyers Leonard is going to bring to the table is a strong post option, a guy you can throw it to on the block,” Daniels said. “He’s going to be able to score, but he’s also a guy that can get after it on the defensive end. He’s really active on both ends. He plays really hard.”

Although it is early, Weber’s 2010 class is sure to rank among the nation’s best. ESPN.com rates the Illini’s 2009 class – which includes in-state guards Joseph Bertrand (Sterling), D.J. Richardson (Peoria), Brandon Paul (Warren) and Missouri forward Tyler Griffey – as the second best in the nation, behind only North Carolina.

Leonard said having strong recruiting classes made his decision to commit to Illinois even easier. When asked what he hopes he can bring to the table, Leonard answered succinctly: “A national championship.”