We're continuing to roll through our player evaluations for the 2014-15 basketball season, and next up is freshman forward Leron Black. After this post we'll be moving on to the sophomores and sophomores; you can expect the segments to be published about every two to three days.
Leron Black | Freshman | PF
Coming out of Memphis, Tennessee, Black was a four-star recruit and one of John Groce's first big commitments. Expectations were somewhat-high for the top 50 overall player. The Illini needed a strong post presence and an aggressive rebounder and that's exactly what Black was supposed to bring to the table. But aggressive didn't even begin to explain the freshman's experience at Illinois.
Black scored a season-high 18 points in just his second appearance of the year against Coppin State, but also received three or more personal fouls in each of his first five games. This trend unfortunately continued throughout the year; he picked up four or more fouls in 10 different contests, or nearly 31% of the season. That's not good. He was (rightly so) ripped early-on for making too many mistakes and being called for too many technical fouls, and some thought he was taking Coach Groce's "Toughness and Togetherness" motto way too far.
But to Black's credit, he cleaned up his game considerably by season's end and managed to log more minutes as the conference schedule progressed. He received a starting role for the first time in his career against Purdue and averaged nearly six points and six rebounds per game from that point forward. Despite being under early-season scrutiny from the fanbase and the media, Black managed to turn his year around once the calendar hit January and will look to continue his development as a sophomore next season.
Purdue | January 21st
In what was easily his most complete performance of the season, Black pulled down a career-high 13 boards and also managed to score 15 points. His double-double was even more impressive considering he had to go up against Purdue's 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot A.J. Hammons for the majority of the game. And then of course there was this gem from the freshman following the Illini victory:
Best quote of the season from Leron Black: My mama didn’t raise no quitter so I’m not going to quit.
— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) January 22, 2015
Final Grade: C+
The first 19 games of his year were nothing to write home about, but after his breakout performance against the Boilermakers Black was able to be a solid contributor to this Illinois team, especially defensively. He started for a majority of the conference season, a role he might not have otherwise had if it weren't for Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Cosby's absences, but took it in stride. He will need to continue to do develop in the maturity department next season but make no mistake, the skill level to be an elite rebounder is there. If he can put together more consistent and complete performances and continue to mature as a sophomore, this grade will improve greatly. But for now he'll get an average C+ for his first year in Champaign.
Next up on our evaluation schedule is Maverick Morgan--make sure to check back this weekend.