Black’s energy, aggression translates to production for Illini basketball


Illinois’ Leron Black lays the ball up during the exhibition game against Quincy at State Farm Center on Friday. The Illini won 91-62.

On the basketball court, Leron Black prides himself on aggression and energy.

The freshman forward’s energy on the court can be seen in every facet of his game. From scoring in the low post, to rebounding, to celebrating a three-point play with his team, Black exudes energy.

Black’s motor is the reason why he almost knocked over sophomore guard Malcolm Hill in celebration after fighting through two Quincy defenders to lay the ball in off the backboard in the second half of the Illinois men’s basketball team’s exhibition on Friday.

“I was trying to give him a hug,” Black said. “Malcolm, he’s smooth. He doesn’t like all the aggression, but I’m going to get him to like it.”

Hill, who facilitated the play with a pass into the lane to Black, remembers Black’s enthusiasm after he was wrapped up in the freshman forward’s arms following the play.

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    “He got so excited,” Hill said. “I’ve never played with anybody that energetic. I’m more cool and calm. He got all hyped.”

    The intensity Black plays with isn’t anything new for the Illini, who have been talking about his drive since he joined the team.

    While the team gave Black the nickname “Savage,” and head coach John Groce raved about his energy before the start of the season, it wasn’t until the “Illini All In” scrimmage in late October that fans saw that Black’s nickname and all of the talk surrounding his game was warranted.

    “That’s just the way I play,” Black said of the reason behind the nickname. “I just feel like I play hard. Savage is like a beast. When I’m on the court, I’m a beast.”

    Against Quincy, Black came down with eight rebounds, second-most on the team behind senior center Nnanna Egwu’s 13.

    Black also proved that he could get it done offensively as he finished second on the team in points with 15.

    On top of his contributions offensively and on the glass, Black showed flashes of defensive prowess in his 21 minutes against Quincy.

    He recorded an impressive chase down block in which he pinned what would have likely been an easy layup to the backboard with his hand. The block came just seconds after a block by Egwu on a play Groce assumed would be an easy layup for the Hawks.

    “(Black and Egwu) both play with such ridiculous motor and effort level,” Groce said. “The one play (where) Egwu blocks the shot, I thought a couple guys thought that kid was going to lay it in, but Black kept coming and pinned the next one. I think he’s just very relentless and you can’t have enough of those guys.”

    Although Black exhibits boundless energy and excitement on the court, when the final whistle blows, his personality changes.

    “Off the court, I’m a nice person,” he said.

    When asked what his favorite part of the scrimmage was, the humble side of his personality came out. Black didn’t hesitate before he said he enjoyed seeing fellow freshman and current roommate Michael Finke score nine points and play well offensively.

    While he may be more laid-back off the court or in postgame press conferences, Black is always aggressive on the court. Groce sees Black’s aggression as a good thing.

    “I’d rather dial a guy back than have to dial him up or kick him in the rear end figuratively,” Groce said. “That’s certainly Leron. You never catch him on a day where he doesn’t have motor or he’s not giving effort. That never happens. That’s not how he’s wired.”

    Groce, who is himself energetic on the sidelines, actually sees a bit of himself in Leron.

    “I connect with him a little bit because he’s a Tigger,” Groce said. “He’s an energy guy. That’s just who he is on a daily basis. He’s that way all the time. That’s a great attribute to have.”

    With his play in the scrimmage and against Quincy, Black showed he could hold his own in the college game and he will probably be the first option off the bench at power forward.

    So while he may not be as productive on the stat sheet as he was in the scrimmage, Black knows his approach to the game and the energy he brings will remain the same.

    “On the court, I feel like I got to give it my all and play as hard as I can,” he said. 

    Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter