CHAMPAIGN — Since he arrived in March of 2012, Illinois fans have been waiting for coach John Groce to land a commitment from an elite high school recruit. Groce delivered Sunday, securing a verbal commitment from 2014 forward Leron Black of Memphis (Tenn.) White Station, capping Black official visit to Illinois this weekend.
Black becomes the second member in the Class of 2014 to commit to the Illini, joining Champaign’s Michael Finke, a 6-foot-9 forward.
“Before I came here this weekend, I knew Illinois is where I wanted to be,” Black told The News-Gazette on Sunday morning. “The Illinois coaching staff is amazing, the campus was amazing and I feel like I’m going to grow here as a player and a person and spiritually. I feel like I can trust the coaches. I believe in them and this is the right spot."
Black is a 6-7, 215-pound power forward, rated as a consensus Top-50 recruit by national services. Rivals lists Black, who had narrowed his list to Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana and Baylor, as a five-star recruit ranked 22nd in his class. Scout and ESPN each consider him a four-star player.
He's the first consensus Top-50 recruit to pick Illinois since Groce took over and the first the program has landed since Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard signed in the Class of 2010.
Black, who committed to Baylor a year ago, was scheduled to visit the Bears next weekend. Indiana was to receive a visit the weekend of Sept. 21 and Tennessee was scheduled for the following weekend. Those trips will be canceled with the commitment to Illinois.
"It feels real good to have this out of the way," said Black, who developed a close rlationship with Illini assistant Jamall Walker through the recruiting process. "Now I can focus on just continuing to get better and trying to win a state championship at my high school."
The Memphis product is the first high school player from that city to commit to Illinois since guard Cory Bradford (Raleigh Egypt High) who played for the Illini from 1998-2002.
Black arrived on the Illinois campus Friday night with his mom, dad, grandmother, brother and sister. Among their stops at the UI was Saturday's football game against Southern Illinois. Black and his family toured the campus with the coaching staff and had a dinner with Groce's staff and the entire Illini team.
"My family is real happy with my decision," Black said. "They loved the school and the coaches."
With Black’s commitment, the Illini have one scholarship to give for the 2014 class if Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks is granted a waiver by the NCAA to play his final season of eligibility this season. Chicago Curie big man Cliff Alexander, the No. 2 player in the class, is still considering Illinois, as is Louisville (Ky.) Ballard point guard Quentin Snider.
Black and Finke can sign a letter of intent as early as November.