Trail blazing: Leonard back in Illinois
At the end of the season, a lot of your teammates in Portland made public comments that your best days as a player are ahead of you. How did that make you feel?
I came in with (Damian Lillard), and he’s obviously a very good player — he’s up for two ESPYs right now — and coming in with him maybe put a little pressure on me to keep up with him, but I truly believe I will make an impact.
My teammates definitely do see me every day. I have to continue working my tail off to show LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Wesley (Matthews) and Nic (Batum), really all of my teammates, that I’m going to work hard and prove myself.
The fact that they said those things about me makes me feel good, but I have to go out there and prove them right.
Do you have a relationship with the current Illinois coaching staff?
I do. I’m obviously really close with Bruce (Weber), I still talk to Jay (Price), Wayne McClain, Jerrance (Howard), all those guys. They were all such good guys to me off the court, kind of molding me and holding myself to a high standard.
As far as the new coaching staff, I decided to leave shortly after they got there, but they never had any hard feelings.
I actually worked out with Jamall (Walker) a few times. Coach (John)Groce was cool about that. I talk to him every now and then. If they win a big game, I’ll text him to say, “Good job, great win,” and he’ll text me back. When I come to a football game, we’ll catch up. We’ve got a good relationship, and I talk to (Dustin) Ford every so often.
I’m happy for them. I think they’ve got a lot of young talent; they definitely have a chance to do some things this year. People don’t understand that the Big Ten is brutal.
Going on the road anywhere, even Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, they can get you, it’s no joke. I hope they have another successful season coming up.