Future NBA stars headed to Chicago
Robinson principal Troy Hickey remembers when Meyers Leonard was a typical high school student attending classes, walking the hallways and playing basketball.
That was all the way back in 2010.
Now, the 20-year-old Illinois native has a shot at being a lottery pick in this month’s NBA draft.
“We’re just very proud of Meyers for how he’s handled himself through this whole process,” Hickey said by phone Tuesday from Robinson, a town of 7,000 people about 80 miles south of Danville. “To say that two years ago, we were playing in Peoria for a state championship, and two years later, he’s in position to be drafted somewhere in the teens to go to the National Basketball Association is pretty exciting.”
Before Leonard’s dream becomes reality, he will make an important stop in Chicago.
For a couple of days this week, a sprawling athletic complex on the city’s West Side will serve as the epicenter of the next crop of basketball stars. The NBA Draft Combine will take place Thursday and Friday at Attack Athletics, a 65,000-square foot training facility about 1˝ miles southwest of the United Center.
Although the event does not garner nearly as much media attention as the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis, it’s a rare showcase of elite talent under the same roof.
Sixty-one of the nation’s most coveted prospects are scheduled to participate in front of scouts and front-office members from all 30 NBA teams. Almost every projected first-round draft pick will participate, with the exception of international players, who will gather in Italy next week for a pre-draft workout.
As usual, one of the nation’s top prospects will have a short drive to NBA Combine.
Chicago native Anthony Davis, who is expected to be selected No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Hornets on June 28 in the NBA Draft, is scheduled to participate. Davis (6-foot-10, 220 pounds) turned pro after a season at Kentucky, where he led the Wildcats to a championship and was named NCAA Player of the Year.
As an adolescent, Davis attended Perspectives Charter School’s Joslin campus near 19th Street and South Archer Avenue. He was overlooked by top college programs until his junior year, when coaches started to notice his impressive size and agility.
Davis’ stock has climbed ever since. He averaged 14.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.7 blocks a game as a star freshman at Kentucky, and some scouts have compared him to a blend of NBA big men Blake Griffin and Tyson Chandler.
While Davis’ destination appears to be set, others must work hard and wait.
That includes Leonard, who will have his hometown’s support no matter where he ends up. The former Fighting Illini center is projected to be taken at No. 19 overall by the Orlando Magic in the latest mock draft by ESPN’s Chad Ford, while other national projections have him going No. 10 overall to the Hornets, who have two first-round picks, No. 12 to the Milwaukee Bucks or No. 14 to the Houston Rockets.
By next fall, one of those jerseys could be on display in his high school’s trophy case.
“It’d be nice to have a jersey to put in here,” Hickey said. “It really would.”