Two former Illini compete in 2020 NBA Bubble


Photo Courtesy of Michael Laughlin

Miami Heat’s Meyers Leonard turns his attention to the Philadelphia 76ers at American Airlines Arena on Jan. 22. Leonard is one of the two Illinois alumni currently playing in the NBA.

By Jackson Janes, Assistant Sports Editor

Illinois basketball is entering one of its most promising years since the team went to the national championship in 2005. With the return of junior guard Ayo Dosunmu and sophomore center Kofi Cockburn, along with the addition of guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo, the Illini will likely enter the season ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the country.

Though the program has made the NCAA tournament only three times in the last decade, and only five times since the magical 2005 season, the Illini have seen many former players reach the NBA. This includes Meyers Leonard and Kendrick Nunn, who are currently playing in the league’s “bubble” in Orlando, Fla.

Leonard played two seasons for the Illini but opted to declare for the NBA Draft in 2012, where he was subsequently drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers as the 11th overall pick. Nunn played three seasons at Illinois before being dismissed from the team following the 2015-16 season. Both former Illini players now don the black, red and yellow of the Miami Heat. While it has been a few years since these two players competed in Champaign, let’s take a look at how they are doing in Orlando.

Meyers Leonard

2019 marked Leonard’s first year with the Heat after getting traded following the 2018-19 season. Playing 51 games during the regular season, 49 of which he started, Leonard averaged 6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He recorded career highs in games started, rebounds and steals per game, though he missed 16 games due to an ankle injury.

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Leonard received national attention for his decision to stand during the national anthem rather than kneel with his teammates in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, citing his deep respect for the U.S. military because his brother served two tours with the Marines in Afghanistan.

“Today, I listened to my heart,” Leonard wrote in a tweet Aug. 1. “I felt an overwhelming amount of emotion as I stood there during the National Anthem. My brother and many close friends have sworn to protect this country at all costs, and that means something to me, as does the flag and our nation.

“The Black Lives Matter movement also means a hell of a lot to me. What has been and continues to go on in our country is inexcusable and flat out wrong. I will continue to use my voice, my platform and my family’s resources to commit to helping make a change.”

Leonard has not yet made an appearance in the 2020 NBA playoffs.

Kendrick Nunn

The 6-foot-2-inch guard entered the NBA Bubble as a Rookie of the Year candidate, as the Chicago native averaged 15.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game in his first year in Miami. After the Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 27, Nunn became the fastest rookie to reach 500 career points in franchise history. Nunn entered Orlando with a flying start, putting up 11 points in a 125-105 win over the Denver Nuggets on Aug. 1.

Nunn made his first career playoff appearance on Monday, scoring 7 points and grabbing three rebounds in the Heat’s Game 4 win over the Pacers.

With the win, 5-seeded Miami clinched the series over the 4-seeded Indiana to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals, with the team likely facing the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the next round of the playoffs.


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