Leonard goes 11th in NBA draft
Trail Blazers make 7-foot Illini center's dreams come true
Meyers Leonard is introduced as the 11th overall pick to the Portland Trail Blazers by NBA commissioner David Stern. (Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE / June 28, 2012)
The Trail Blazers selected the 7-foot center 11th overall Thursday night in the NBA draft.
"It was really unbelievable and surreal feeling," Leonard said. "It was a mixed emotion. … I definitely made the right decision for me and my family. When I was laying down in bed (Wednesday night) I was like, 'Wow, I'm really here.'"
His draft stock seemed to rise through the process as he worked out with various teams and displayed his ability to run the court, exhibit athleticism and play defense. At times deemed immature for showing emotion on the court and once seen crying on the bench during a loss, Leonard said at the draft combine that he was out to show NBA teams that he is a mature player and good teammate.
"I think I surprised people on the court with my ability to shoot," Leonard said. "(The interviews were) very professional and mature. I showed up with a suit. I showed up, I believe, being very articulate."
Leonard was considered one of the few true centers in the draft, where he listened for his name to be called in New York. He was the second center selected after Connecticut's Andre Drummond.
He hopes his improvement continues in the NBA as it did at Illinois.
After playing less than 10 minutes per game as a freshman, Leonard blossomed as a sophomore. He shot 58.4 percent from the field, averaging 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and nearly two blocked shots per game last season.
Leonard is the first Illini player drafted since Dee Brown was taken 46th in 2006 and the highest taken since Deron Williams was selected third overall in 2005.
He is the 15th first-rounder and the third lottery pick taken in Illini history.
Leonard grew up in Robinson, Ill., with his mother and brother after his father died suddenly in an accident. His brother served in Afghanistan and his mother has been dealing with health issues.
His mom plans to move with him to Portland.
Leonard said he'll remain a part of the Illini community despite the distance.
"I'll be around as much as I possibly can," he said. "I love my Illini family and I always will."