Meyers Leonard's gain will ease mom's pain
Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard is projected to go anywhere from No. 12 to 25 in the June 28 NBA draft. He plans to use some of his professional earnings to pay for medical treatment for his mother.
Many players in his position — waiting to become a first-round pick in the NBA draft — would dream of buying a nice car with their first professional paycheck.
Former Illinois center Meyers Leonard is hoping to he can ease his mother's pain.
Leonard's mom, Tracie, suffers from chronic back pain. She can't work and can't afford surgery. She couldn't even make the drive to Champaign for home games.
Maybe he would have turned pro anyway, but the 7-foot sophomore clearly had a fundraising project in mind.
Leonard is in Chicago this week for the NBA predraft camp. He's projected to go anywhere from No. 12 to 25 in the June 28 draft.
"She's doing all right. She's getting around a little better," Leonard said of his mother's struggle. "Her back's slowly trying to get better, but it's going to take some more time and it's going to take someone such as a neurosurgeon to really get into some details and hopefully in the near future, I'll be able to take care of her in that way."
Leonard's father, James, died in an accident when Myles was 6. During his teenage years, he often lived with a friend's family in his downstate hometown of Robinson.
"I have a great relationship with my mom," Leonard said. "I talk to her every single day; just got done talking to her. I couldn't respect her more for what she's done and what she's been through."
Leonard spent the past couple of days meeting with several teams and will begin traveling around the country soon for workouts.
Like any college kid seeking a new job, Leonard bought a new suit and tried to look the part. He's battling a reputation for immaturity on the basketball court. Then again, he is just 20 years old.
"I felt I handled myself in a very mature and professional way," Leonard said at a downtown hotel. "I actually got in a full suit and I felt good. I cared to look good and show people my maturity level is quite possibly higher than most people conceive. I felt confident and felt I interviewed well."
Leonard certainly has an NBA-ready body. He's the tallest player at the draft camp, measuring 7-feet-1¼ in shoes. He weighed in a shade under 250 pounds and has a wingspan of 7-3.
During his sophomore season at Illinois, Leonard averaged 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. The year ended without a postseason invite, and coach Bruce Weber was replaced.
"I talked to (Weber) last night," Leonard said. "I talk to him three times, four times a week. I committed my sophomore year, so we've had a pretty good relationship."
As far as leaving college early, Leonard is willing to take the good with the bad.
"I liked the guys that I played with. We were a great group on and off the court," he said. "I enjoyed being around all those guys, I enjoyed being around the staff we had.
"There's just a feel to being on campus, seeing people smile and say hi to you, just being around it is a good feeling. Everyone talks about the college experience as being one of the best times in their lives. Cutting it short, it is what it is. I made my move and it's definitely the best decision that I could have made."
Especially if Leonard's new job helps get his mother back on her feet.
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