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April 19, 2014

Illini signee shines at Derby Classic




Friday night Louisville's famed Freedom Hall hosted the Kentucky Derby Festival Basketball Classic.

Incoming Illini freshman forward Leron Black competed in an All-Star game for basketball recruits from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, or Ohio. Also involved were players committed to attend University of Louisville and Indiana University.

This year, most of the recruiting classes from Florida, UNLV, and Marylando took part.

The White Team won 128-104 over the Green Team behind 22 points and 9 rebounds from Xavier signee Trevon Bluiett. Future Oregon Duck Jaquan Lyle led the Green team with 16 points. Defense was not the primary agenda.

Facing a front line stacked with three top 50 players, Black grooved right along. Accustomed to fruitlessly hunting for touches in All-star games, Black got his own.

"Regardless it is easy to get offensive rebounds because a lot of people don't take advantage to box out," said Black. "They just think that the big man will get the rebound, so I just crash the board regardless."

In loose settings there are two ways to ensure you get the ball. Demand the inbounds feed or grab it off the glass yourself. Black chose the latter.

According to his nearly lifelong teammate, Chris Chiozza (Florida commit), high energy is simply a Leron trademark.

"I have been blessed to play with him since he was little, since he first came to Memphis," said Chiozza. "And I really hope that he has a chance to go to the next level. I mean, he has just as good a chance as anybody because of his motor and his hard work and his God-given talent."

Black finished with 13 points (6-14 FG), five rebounds, and five personal fouls. Everyone played 20 minutes.


Immediate plans

Black has a couple more bows to affix before he delivers himself to the Illini faithful. Graduation from Memphis White Station is a month away.

"My last day May 9th and I have the Olympic Trials on June 10-25 before I go to campus," said Black. "I was supposed to go (to Illinois) during the week of tryouts, but they want me to go to tryouts instead, so I'm going to do that."

Midway through the second half Black stood on his own baseline ready to inbound the ball.

A quiet, yet confident 'Go Illini' arose from the second row. Black paused.

"It felt good to see I had some fans here," said Black afterwards. "I waved back at them and said, 'Go Illini.'"

Black turned around and beamed a bright smile. He grinned and shared thumbs up while glancing towards the fans. After the game Black posed for a photo with the only orange-clad family in the arena.

On the subsequent play he followed former Illini-verbal Quentin Snider's miss with an easy tip-in. Once again the magic sprouted from the sharp cut to the tin.

"I was just looking to show that I can do everything on the floor," Black said "Show that I can rebound, play multiple positions, and just help my team win."

Illinois Head Coach John Groce told Black to focus on improving his handles and shot. Both Coach Groce and Black feel he can play either forward position.

Black was only truly exposed once, when defending Robert Johnson in the corner. RJ is a crafty combo guard headed Indiana University. Black didn't have the lateral quickness to keep him in front. As Johnson blasted by Black's helping defender desperately fouled.

Black and his Illini will get numerous chances for retaliation in the coming years.

"He plays good defense," said Chiozza. "He bodies up big men. He is not going to let anybody push him around or anything. He is going to be a real good player at Illinois. I think his freshman year, I think he will be one of the two best players on the team and he will probably be the main option scoring because he can score in so many different ways."

Friday night Black scored in tight multiple times. He also hit his only free throw. Perhaps his most athletic make was a high-arcing floater delicately lifted above the right hand of UNLV recruit Goodluck Okonoboh.

The Memphian Black will give U of I a surprisingly scrappy, elite athlete. When the best players also work the hardest success generally follows. With his unrelenting drive Leron Black will certainly lead.


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