Leron Black commits to Illini

CHAMPAIGN — Since he arrived in March of 2012, Illinois fans have been waiting for coach John Groce to land a commitment from an elite high school recruit. Groce delivered Sunday, securing a verbal commitment from 2014 forward Leron Black of Memphis (Tenn.) White Station, capping Black official visit to Illinois this weekend.

Black becomes the second member in the Class of 2014 to commit to the Illini, joining Champaign’s Michael Finke, a 6-foot-9 forward.

“Before I came here this weekend, I knew Illinois is where I wanted to be,” Black told The News-Gazette on Sunday morning. “The Illinois coaching staff is amazing, the campus was amazing and I feel like I’m going to grow here as a player and a person and spiritually. I feel like I can trust the coaches. I believe in them and this is the right spot."

Black is a 6-7, 215-pound power forward, rated as a consensus Top-50 recruit by national services. Rivals lists Black, who had narrowed his list to Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana and Baylor, as a five-star recruit ranked 22nd in his class. Scout and ESPN each consider him a four-star player.

He's the first consensus Top-50 recruit to pick Illinois since Groce took over and the first the program has landed since Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard signed in the Class of 2010.

Black, who committed to Baylor a year ago, was scheduled to visit the Bears next weekend. Indiana was to receive a visit the weekend of Sept. 21 and Tennessee was scheduled for the following weekend. Those trips will be canceled with the commitment to Illinois.

"It feels real good to have this out of the way," said Black, who developed a close rlationship with Illini assistant Jamall Walker through the recruiting process. "Now I can focus on just continuing to get better and trying to win a state championship at my high school."

The Memphis product is the first high school player from that city to commit to Illinois since guard Cory Bradford (Raleigh Egypt High) who played for the Illini from 1998-2002.

Black arrived on the Illinois campus Friday night with his mom, dad, grandmother, brother and sister. Among their stops at the UI was Saturday's football game against Southern Illinois. Black and his family toured the campus with the coaching staff and had a dinner with Groce's staff and the entire Illini team.

"My family is real happy with my decision," Black said. "They loved the school and the coaches."

With Black’s commitment, the Illini have one scholarship to give for the 2014 class if Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks is granted a waiver by the NCAA to play his final season of eligibility this season. Chicago Curie big man Cliff Alexander, the No. 2 player in the class, is still considering Illinois, as is Louisville (Ky.) Ballard point guard Quentin Snider.

Black and Finke can sign a letter of intent as early as November.


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Chi Illini wrote on September 01, 2013 at 9:09 am

Looking forward to seeing this guy in orange and blue!! Welcome to the Illini family, Leron!

ERE wrote on September 01, 2013 at 3:09 pm
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Terrific news for the Illini!!

This man appears by all accounts to be a terrific person as well as a spectacular basketball player-a diamond recruit for sure. While we have to remember that many of the best players were not 5 star recruits-Oladipo/Burke for example-it is a reflection of what a great program Groce is building here that we were able to attract such a highly ranked recruit.

Hats off to Coach Groce and Coach Walker, and especially to all the members of the epic 2012-2013 team, who showed us what it truly is to pick yourself up and stand tall. They set the foundation for the very promising future for Illini Basketball....

IlliniMike05 wrote on September 01, 2013 at 8:09 pm

He seems like a good kid, but "by all accounts....a terrific person" based on what? Because he likes the Bible? This has nothing to do with Leron Black- who, again, does seem like a level-headed kid- but building kids up into being something that we have no clue if they are or not is so wrong for so many reasons. I'm not talking about his basketball potential; we've all seen the highlights, know what his physical attributes are, know he's highly-ranked. Opine on that all you want. I know I will. But it's not worth caring about whether or not they're good people, because you're basing that on nothing and end up being disappointing for no good reason if you find out they aren't.


And while I'm as happy with what Groce is doing as anyone....2012-13 was "epic?" No. 2004-05 was epic. 1988-89 was epic. 2012-13 was the 10th-best Illinois team of the last 15 years. Let's pump the brakes on "epic."

JohnUI82 wrote on September 02, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Agreed on both counts. Also, everyone seems to be glossing over the fact he reneged on a commitment to Baylor, after telling his hometown paper that commitment would not change. Then when reopening his recruitment he said he wanted to compare campuses, and now he's canceling visits without comparing. Verbals are nice, but with this kid I'll believe it when he signs.

Chi Illini wrote on September 02, 2013 at 6:09 pm

This is the kind of negative BS from people on this site that makes me crazy. This is a great story about our program gaining momentum and these are the comments you leave... Ugh. Try to remember what it was like to have to make important decisions at 18. Cut the kid some slack, thank him for chosing our school over the other great programs that were pursuing in him, and hope he develops into a special player. POSITIVITY (at least for one moment). Please.

IlliniMike05 wrote on September 03, 2013 at 8:09 am

You're creating a false dichotomy with this negative/positive stuff. I'm very happy that a highly-touted player committed to Illinois. And he does seem like a good kid, but building him up into a saint when you really don't know a single thing about him other than he says he reads the Bible is dangerous. It's not fair to Leron Black and it's not fair to ourselves to care about whether someone's a good person just because they're good at basketball.

And JohnUI82 makes a valid point....remember how much we savaged an elite recruit who decommitted from here to go somewhere else? Eric Gordon didn't deserve that from us any more than Leron Black deserves to be canonized. Because you know damn well if the shoe was on the other foot- if Black had decommitted from Illinois, then re-included Illinois in his final four, then not even made his scheduled visit to Illinois- that our fans would be brutally ripping the kid apart.

If you have the right to express that you're being driven crazy by what you perceive to be "negativity," we have the right to express concern over the irresponsibility of putting pressure on this kid to be something more simply a very good basketball player.  

So this isn't negativity about Leron Black. For the millionth time: thrilled he's coming here, and he does seem like a good kid. It's about ridiculous things that fans say that are really, really counterproductive.

JimOATSfan wrote on September 01, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Excellent get Coach Gross.

Welcome to CU Leron and have an excellent adventure while you are there. Cheers!

PS - we wouldn't mind a few championships too :D

IMAN wrote on September 01, 2013 at 7:09 pm

From all accounts I have heard this is a great young man who will make our fine university proud. 

Great get Coach Groce and welcome to Illini Nation Leron Black!  

ERE wrote on September 02, 2013 at 9:09 am
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And hey-where is Rob McColley on this one? Seems like he's gone fully AWOL from Illini Basketball. Rob, quit those gerbil videos and get back to your great Illini coverage-it's missed

nutleyillini wrote on September 02, 2013 at 10:09 am

Let's not forget Mike Shaw was a 4-star recruit and he got about 3 minutes a game last season- so you never know how a player will turn out.  I do think Black has more upside than Shaw -- especially on offense -- but they have similar games.  I'll be more excited when I see Groce land a true 5-star guy.  

ERE wrote on September 02, 2013 at 11:09 am
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Nutley with a top-35 player by any measure, I think you can be reassured he is a 5-star

IlliniMike05 wrote on September 03, 2013 at 12:09 pm

First, the difference that matters most is that Black has a very high motor, whereas Shaw didn't. Shaw did have a similar skillset, but he never put it together from game to game. I don't know what the level of competition is like, but Black had big numbers as a junior, something Shaw never did.

Second, no one had him anywhere near 5-star status by the time he was a senior after having him ranked in the top 10 of his class as a sophomore. Black is still ranked as a -5-star by Rivals going into his senior year, and is only a few spots outside of that on 247 and ESPN.

Shaw ended up ranked No. 65 in the final RSCI, and was only ranked as high as he was because of perceived talent from when he was younger. Black, if the RSCI still was updated, would be somewhere between 30-35 and only dropped out of a consensus top 20 because he was playing injured much of the summer. He's also improved as a player from all accounts while Shaw never did, becoming a credible three-point shooter and driver, while continuing to become one of the elite rebounders in the class. And let's be blunt, since we're talking about someone almost 21 years old: Shaw wasn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, while Black is supposedly a pretty bright kid.

So, for several reasons, it's a really dumb comparison.

Christ, I think only someone from this fanbase could get its first 5-star player in several years, and then complain that he's not enough of a 5-star player. Yes, of course getting Cliff would be more exciting. But this is a big deal of a recruiting effort independent of how good Leron turns out to be: it shows Groce and Illinois can go out and get a guy out of state in a talent-rich area they've almost never recruited in before. It's a big deal. It's OK to be happy about it.

TheChiefLives wrote on September 03, 2013 at 2:09 pm

+1.  Not to mention, Shaw  was a Weber recruit who obviously did not fit Groce's system.  Black is a Groce recruit who will be playing in Groce's system.

Rocket surgery?

ERE wrote on September 03, 2013 at 12:09 pm
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Joe Henricksen, City/Suburban Hoops Report
Black's character has been discussed at length from those who have recruited him and from those in the Memphis area. That's always a bonus in building a program.

aaeismacgychel wrote on September 03, 2013 at 5:09 pm

I cannot believe I somehow managed to miss this news this weekend! What a get! Now up to this point, I can't say as a fan that I was on the same page as Groce and his staff on going pretty much fully to the transfer route to get recruits especially with some fairly strong high school classes, but I certainly have to tip my hat in getting Black who does seem like an excellent fit for both Groce's system and for the school in general. I love the pickup, the reneg on commitment to Baylor drama aside. Seems like we've been in Baylor's shoes more oft than not, huh? To be honest, I could really deal without that in today's game. Of course, that's simply how it is in today's NCAA, but I do hope that the reneg was for the right reasons (academic fit, athletic fit, or simply rushing into a commitment) and not because of tampering or recruiting after the initial commitment. In any case though, I am very excited, and it'll be great seeing him in Orange and Blue! Welcome to the team, Leron and cheers to what will hopefully be a very successful time at U of I. Nice job Groce and company!

IlliniMike05 wrote on September 06, 2013 at 10:09 am

According to Black, he committed to Baylor because he didn't know he was good enough to basically have his choice of schools. He seems like a pretty humble, down-to-earth kid (yes, I know what I said earlier about not caring about that kind of stuff), so that doesn't really come off as phony.

He was still considering Baylor until the end, but Groce got it done. I'm sure Baylor would've been a good fit for him too, because he's a religious kid and- ignoring that Scott Drew is the biggest crook in college hoops by a wide margin- few teams have put forwards in the NBA at the rate Baylor has the last few years (Udoh, Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller; Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin soon to follow).

As far as "tampering," it's not. It was a mere verbal commit and as far as NCAA rules go, there's no such thing. Nor should there be. But Illinois wasn't in the mix- at least publicly- until weeks after he'd decommitted from Baylor.