One thing is for certain. Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers doesn’t need 40 minutes to incite a crowd with a posterizing slam dunk or a big shot block.
At just 20 years of age, the former Robinson, Ill., standout who took his talents to Champaign for two years is getting his feet wet at the highest level of basketball.
Close to 300 fans, many of whom watched Leonard take the Maroons to the 2010 IHSA Class 2A state championship, rode on charter buses to watch him battle the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis last week.
Those fans filled a lower-level section of Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch Leonard shoot around 90 minutes before the game, drawing a big smile to the 7-footer’s face. Leonard obliged by signing autographs up until the very last second his presence was required in the locker room.
“It’s very special. I had my family, best friends here. Just people that I know of in Robinson, people that have been fans for quite a while now. It was pretty awesome to have them here to be able to support me and watch me play in the NBA,” Leonard said.
Leonard is in a positive situation in Portland, playing for mild-mannered coach Terry Stotts on a team with a good mix of veterans and another talented first-round pick — point guard Damian Lillard, the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.
LaMarcus Aldridge and J.J. Hickson get a majority of the minutes at center and power forward, but Leonard can spell them with production at both ends of the floor. Leonard leads NBA rookies with his shooting percentage of 53.3 percent while ranking fourth among first-year players in blocked shots at 1.0 per game.
“I came into a very good situation. I have the ability to learn, but I also have the ability to come in and impact games. LaMarcus has been an All-Star. J.J. can really rebound,” Leonard said. “Our big-man coach Kim Hughes, who I’m really close with, has taught me a lot.”
Leonard has scored in double figures three times this season, scoring 12 twice and 11 once — all during a nine-day span in late November.
“He’s already improved a month-and-a-half into the season,” Stotts said. “It’s an adjustment. He’s still a young player learning the NBA game, learning personnel. My expectations are that he competes and he plays hard and continues to improve.”
An Easten Conference scout expressed doubts about Leonard as a rebounder as the athletic big man got just one in the Blazers’ 99-92 loss at Indiana. The same scout also praised Leonard’s fearlessness on the court, meaning Leonard knows he belongs.
Leonard has skills that will be refined in time.
Against Indiana’s veteran front line, Leonard struggled to deal with the savvy veterans on the glass a couple times. The Pacers’ Tyler Hansbrough got the best of Leonard with some rugged play, but Leonard also showed he can be an excellent weakside shot blocker, swatting Gerald Green’s attempt in the lane with his left hand.
It’s plays like that — in addition to the chiseled frame and the high-flying alley-oop finishes — that have everyone raving about Leonard’s potential.
Portland veteran Jared Jeffries said Leonard’s eagerness to learn and work should equate to reaching that potential.
“His energy, man. He has a great passion for the game and I think his upside is incredible,” Jeffries said. “He’s so athletic, moves well. He’s a really good passer for his size. The biggest thing he’ll have a chance to do from here on out is improve. It’s good working with guys like that.”
Leonard made huge strides from his sophomore year to senior year in high school. His upbeat approach to improving helped him become a blue-chip recruit for former University of Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
He can see that improvement helping him earn playing time in Portland as well. The Blazers rank last in the NBA in bench scoring and 29th in the league in rebounding off the bench. So they could use a little added punch from guys like Leonard.
“He’ll grow into those minutes,” Stotts said. “We’re deep at the 4-5. LaMarcus is going to play [heavy minutes]. … There’s a lot to learn for young guys. The mental aspect of the game is underrated. The veterans that have been around a long time, know the game, know the players, they can see things happening before it happens.”
Leonard is confident his progression as a pro will be steady.
“For a rookie, I’ve made pretty good strides … certainly for a big man,” Leonard said. “It’s all about in-game situations, beginning to understand the game, the flow of the game, how to guard different things, how to score and find different angles on offense, just getting better in general, so I feel like I’ve made good progress. But there’s still a lot of hard work ahead of me. That’s something I’ve always been able to do, always work hard and continue to better myself. I hope for a positive future.”
Leonard is still getting acclimated to the grind of playing in the NBA. The game in Indiana was the last of a seven-game road trip.
“After this road trip, I would say the travel. We had a couple road games, but nothing like this,” Leonard said. “It was an 11-day road trip. It was kind of hectic, a lot of different hotel rooms. Finding good things to eat, staying hydrated, just everything. You’ve really got to take care of your body and stay mentally locked in or you’re going to wear yourself down.”
A pretty good passing big man himself, Jeffries likes Leonard’s feel for the game.
“Every player struggles with the speed of that game. The game is so much faster than college, that it takes you for a while to adjust, for the game to slow down. It’ll do that for him. He’s good enough, he’s skilled enough that eventually the game will slow down and he’ll be every to play at a very high level. He sees the court really well. He knows where to move on the court,” Jeffries said.
While Portland has some young talent, the Blazers find themselves 9-12 and in last place in the Northwest Division. On the bright side, their record was even with the L.A. Lakers through Monday’s games.
The way Lillard is playing along with Aldridge and high-upside guys like Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson, Portland is a team to watch for in the future.
They’ll definitely be watching in Crawford County, Illinois.
“He’s the talk of the town,” said Les Wilson, an assistant coach on Robinson’s state champion team of 2010. Wilson was among the contingent of fans who made the drive to Indianapolis.
“We’re very, very proud of him, not only as a basketball player but as a citizen and a good community person. He can’t complain. He’s playing pretty well. He’ll learn the ropes and get better every year.”
Robinson, Ill., native welcomed in Indianapolis by hometown fans
One thing is for certain. Meyers Leonard of the Portland Trail Blazers doesn’t need 40 minutes to incite a crowd with a posterizing slam dunk or a big shot block.
Wichita State shuts out ISU to force elimination-game rematch
Indiana State starting pitcher Greg Kuhlman did his best.
Actually, he did far better than he ever has previously in an ISU uniform, but while Kuhlman’s gutty pitching effort spoke volumes, ISU’s bats remained ominously silent.
Indiana State baseball now one win from MVC Championship
Indiana State’s Wednesday morning wish list probably read something like this: a dominant complete game effort from starting pitcher Devin Moore, near-immaculate defense to support him, and a steady diet of clutch situational hitting from lineup spots one to nine.
Terre Haute's Mascari running 10,000 meters for chance to get to Hayward Field
Indiana State freshman and Terre Haute North graduate John Mascari is among the enormous group of Sycamores competing this weekend at the NCAA East Preliminary. The top 48 NCAA track and field competitors in each event on this half of the United States are narrowed down to 12 who will compete at the NCAA meet at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Manaea's shoulder causing him latest pain
Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea has battled through so many aches and pains during the 2013 season that it can be hard to discern the serious pain from the pain he pitches through.
ISU's Negele answers call in big way in wake of Manaea injury
When Indiana State starting pitcher Sean Manaea slumped on the mound in obvious pain after he took his warm-up pitches, red flags raised for ISU’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament hopes.
ISU baseball hoping Manaea can get its MVC Tournament moving in right direction
Indiana State’s baseball team has been waiting all season for its stars to align.
But this is the 2013 Sycamores, after all, and after a season in which seemingly little has gone right, it appears its stars will remain crossed at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
ISU track sending record 22 to postseason
On the heels of their thrilling double victory at the 2013 Missouri Valley Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships both the Indiana State men and women moved up in the national rankings which were released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
ISU's athletic treasure trove
Think of every championship that Indiana State has won in each of its sports, past and present. Think of every tournament — postseason or regular season — which the Sycamores have claimed as their own.
Ort sets ISU RBI record in 16-7 win
Robby Ort celebrated his Indiana State baseball Senior Day on Saturday by becoming the Sycamores’ all-time leader in RBIs as ISU ended its regular season with a 16-7 win over Bradley at Bob Warn Field.
Bradley ends 16-game MVC losing streak against ISU
Momentum was the only thing riding on Indiana State’s baseball game against Bradley on Friday. With a five-game winning streak going, ISU wanted to keep the good vibes going into next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
ISU couldn’t do it.
Behind 16 hits and Manaea's pitching, ISU beats Bradley
Indiana State’s baseball team rode a wild ride of emotion on Thursday.
First came the public announcement that Bob Warn Field would host the 2014 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Later, Sean Manaea’s availability to pitch ISU’s series opener against Bradley was in doubt.
Indiana State women add five transfers, including experienced D-I point guard
Indiana State coach Teri Moren believes the addition of five more newcomers to the program — in addition to the five who had already joined the program earlier this calendar year — will provide her coaching staff the athleticism and depth it needs to play a successful, up-tempo brand of basketball next season.
Metro roundup: Woods softball takes seventh in national tournament
The St. Mary-of-the-Woods softball team finished seventh in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association softball tournament on Tuesday at Firestone Stadium.
Metro Roundup: Indiana State’s Shakir Bell on Performance Awards watch list
College Football Performance Awards has announced its watch list for the 2013 CFPA FCS Running Back Award, and Indiana State’s Shakir Bell earned a spot on the list.
ISU baseball team builds on success with 14-2 rout
Indiana State’s baseball victory over Alcorn State on Friday would take on more meaning Saturday if the Sycamores could build momentum and pick up on the good work they did in Friday’s ninth-inning rally.
The Sycamores were aggressive from the opening inning at the plate and starting pitcher Devin Moore gave them eight valuable and effective innings on the mound as ISU defeated Alcorn State 14-2 at Bob Warn Field.
“It was a really good experience for everybody. It felt great to finally come out here and put some things together. It’s also really nice when your offense puts a lot of runs on the board,” Moore said.
Moore’s eight innings of work were as valuable as gold to an ISU team that is short on quality arms due to injury and ineffectiveness. He didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and one of the two runs he conceded was unearned.
Johnson, Lyke win MVC titles for ISU
Indiana State’s Felisha Johnson and Maurice Lyke were both crowned Missouri Valley Conference champions on Saturday during the MVC Track and Field Championships at Drake University.
ISU earns badly-needed win
Alcorn State’s baseball team might be ranked in the bottom 10 in RPI and Indiana State might have never lost to a Southwestern Athletic Conference team. So it wouldn’t appear that a quality win was in the offing when Alcorn State visited Bob Warn Field on Friday.
Metro roundup: RHIT’s Evans sets Div. III record in high jump
For the third time this season, Rose-Hulman senior Liz Evans topped the NCAA Division III all-time national record in the outdoor high jump Friday night.
ISU’s Mascari and Hope win MVC track & field titles
Indiana State produced two champions during the opening day of action in the Missouri Valley Conference track and field championships Friday at Drake. Freshman John Mascari, a Terre Haute native, won the men’s 10,000-meter race and Nicole Hope won the women’s pole vault for the second time in three seasons.
ISU pole vault tradition continues with help from its author
Pole vault is track and field for the adrenaline junkie, Indiana State senior Nicole Hope proclaimed during a recent practice at Marks Field.
To catapult oneself about 14 feet into the air with a large $500 fiberglass pole on a daily basis is a risky endeavor.
“We have to be fearless. You can’t be afraid at all,” said Hope, who has also catapulted herself into the NCAA’s elite in the event, ranking 15th in the NCAA with her leap of 13-feet, 9 1/4.
Sycamores searching for answers after seventh loss in eight games
These are the bad times for the Indiana State baseball team.
The will is there for the Sycamores to pull out of their worst slump of the season, but the results are not. The suffering continued on Wednesday at Bob Warn Field as Eastern Illinois defeated ISU 5-3.
METRO ROUNDUP: ISU men's track picked first in MVC Championships, women second
The Indiana State men’s track team has won the last two Missouri Valley Conference outdoor championships, but the women have not stood on the top podium since 1999.
That may change this year, but the Sycamores will face some stiff competition in their quest for the championships.
North grad Welker helps Whitson earn first NCAA bid as coach
Eastern Kentucky girls golf coach Mike Whitson, an alumnus of his employer, enjoyed his stay in Terre Haute as coach of Indiana State, where he started the women’s golf program.
METRO ROUNDUP: Rose-Hulman wins HCAC all-sports trophy
Rose-Hulman has won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men’s all-sports trophy for the fifth time in the past six year, the league announced Monday.
Rose tallied 66.5 points for its finishes in 11 men’s sports, just ahead of Franklin with 66. Hanover was third with 53 points.
METRO ROUNDUP: Rose-Hulman tennis falls in HCAC semifinal
Rose-Hulman’s hot streak in men’s tennis came to an end Saturday in the semifinal round of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament at the West Indy Racquet Club.
Manaea fights off bad hip, wet weather to toss four innings
Mother Nature has been the bane of the Indiana State baseball team’s existence all season. Eight games wiped due to weather are a testament to that. So it was no surprise, though no less disappointing, when she didn’t deal Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea the greatest hand on Saturday as he tries to recover from a hip injury.
ISU track enjoys big night at IU's Billy Hayes Invitational
The Indiana State Sycamores either won or finished as the top collegian in 12 events, led by the record-breaking performance of senior Brandon Pounds at the 2013 Billy Hayes Invitational Friday at Indiana University.
Pounds broke his own school record to win the men’s hammer throw.
Lansing looking for more home games for next fall
Indiana State’s men’s basketball team is looking for a few good games.
Home games that is.
The Sycamores have filled in most of the blanks in their nonconference schedule, but as ever, ISU coach Greg Lansing would like to visit the friendly confines of Hulman Center a bit more often.
Secret weapon: Kelsey Rosselli finishing Woods career with a bang
At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, reporting game results to the Tribune-Star after a win or a loss is not always a high priority.
So when one of its athletes enjoys an outstanding season, like senior Kelsey Rosselli is doing for the Pomeroys’ softball team in 2013, media publicity doesn’t always follow.
In fact, her efforts almost seem like a government secret.
Rosselli’s name might sound familiar to longtime Terre Haute softball followers because she was a standout for North High School, from where she graduated in 2009.
Since then, she’s helped The Woods finish runner-up in three straight U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) national tournaments in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
ISU baseball gets back into rhythm with victory
Baseball is a rhythm game. With contests every day or five times a week in the case of many college programs, you have the chance to build on success or wallow in a slump.
Mother Nature took that rhythm away from Indiana State’s team last week. After a 7-1 loss to Indiana on April 24, ISU was supposed to play a three-game series at Tennessee-Martin, but it was wiped out by rain.
So the rhythm was disturbed, but perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing.
ISU was in a five-game losing streak before its unintended vacation and the Sycamores made a move in the right direction Wednesday with a 7-0 win over DePauw at Bob Warn Field.
“It was a disappointing weekend. We went all the way down to Tennessee and didn’t get to play. We sat around in the hotel room. We came here and it was still raining. It was nice to get out and see some live pitching,” ISU center fielder Landon Curry said.
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- Wichita State shuts out ISU to force elimination-game rematch