Hometown ready to celebrate Leonard

Hometown ready to celebrate Leonard

ROBINSON — Meyers Leonard will always be synonymous with Robinson. Leading the Maroons to their first-ever state title in basketball — and only second ever total for the school — will do that. Robinson is simply making it official today when it retires Leonard's jersey in a 6:30 p.m. ceremony before the Maroons' football team takes on rival Flora.

"It is neat to know that's one of Robinson's own out there wearing that Portland jersey and still playing the great game of basketball," said Bob Coffman, who coached Leonard at Robinson and is now an assistant principal at the high school.

"I think it's a great thing for our community," Coffman continued. "I think that's one thing Meyers really makes sure he always remembers is he's from a small town in southeastern Illinois. I think he appreciates the support and following he still has from his community here in Robinson."

Leonard averaged 18.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and 3.8 assists during his senior season at Robinson. That earned the future Illinois center News-Gazette All-State First Team honors in 2010.

Leonard ultimately played just two seasons at Illinois. He put up career highs in scoring and rebounding in 2011-12 — averaging 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds — and the 7-foot-1 center turned his potential into the No. 11 overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers.

"It's an amazing thing to know you've coached a young man that's currently playing professional basketball," Coffman said. "But I'll be honest with you. To see him and all the guys I've coached go on to do great things in their lives and become great husbands and fathers, it's been great to see them mature and establish themselves."

Leonard, who just completed his sixth season in the NBA and now heads into the final year of a four-year, $41 million contract, regularly gives back to Robinson. He donated funds for the Maroons' weight room, and he also held an annual basketball camp at his old home gym — something Coffman said he expects to start again.

"I even had my daughters go to the camp," Coffman said. "It is kind of a bigger than life thing. I think the junior high kids and elementary kids and even the high school kids are still in awe about who he is and what he's accomplished."

Today's jersey retirement has already sparked some reminiscing for Coffman of all Leonard and his teammates accomplished at Robinson, turning a program that went 8-21 when they were freshmen into state champs.

"It really has brought back a lot of those feelings and major accomplishments that 2010 team did that year — not just Meyers but all those guys on that team," Coffman said. "We had a very special team and a great coaching staff. That really brings some great memories for me."