Illini's Leonard shooting high in 2012 NBA Draft

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Illini's Leonard shooting high in 2012 NBA Draft

His college resume is thin to say the least, but at 7-foot-1 and 240 pounds, Meyers Leonard's NBA hopes aren't as slim as you might think.

The draft is short on centers, which bodes well for the former Illini big man who has already drawn interest from several NBA teams. The most logical spot for Meyers to land is Milwaukee at No. 12 since the Bucks need to replace Andrew Bogut, whom they traded to Golden State in March.

But, depending on how things shake out, Leonard could land in the Top 10. You figure UConn's Andre Drummond and North Carolina's Tyler Zeller will go first, leaving Leonard as the third center available, and if a team really wants a big man, they may take a reach with the Big Ten's leading shotblocker.

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle told me at the NBA Pre-Draft camp Thursday that Golden State was very high on Leonard and might take a flyer on him as a back-up to Bogut. It's hard to believe the relatively inexperienced Leonard would go seventh, but after talking to several people at the combine, I'm starting to think anything is possible.

The downside to Leonard, of course, is his lack of maturity on the court in terms of basketball skills and mentality. At Illinios, he was prone to emotional outbursts at times, which led to run-ins with head coach Bruce Weber, but Leonard insists he's grown-up and learned a lot from his two years in Champaign.

"With Coach Weber, they just wanted me to be the best I could be," explained Meyers who spoke to Weber the night before the combine. "I appreciate the way they pushed me to be the best I can be. I don't think the word immaturity or emotionally unstable is right at all. Most people know I'm willing to work hard. I'm just going to continue to prove to people that I've matured."

Leonard might be able to convince NBA coaches he has the right mental makeup to play in the NBA, but most think he's still a project. It's one more label Leonard has had to deal with, but this one doesn't rub him the wrong way.

"I don't take it hard, everyone has their opinion," said Leonard. "Everyone can get better at the game. I take it as they see potential in me. It's not a negative comment, I understand I have to come to the gym and get better and develop."

So Leonard is putting in the time, working out three times a day, eating right and getting his rest. And, the Robinson, Ill., native is extra motivated to fulfill his NBA dreams for family reasons to help finance medical care for his mother who suffers from health problems and to make his brother, who just returned from serving a second tour of duty in Afghanistan, proud.

"The first day I walked in the gym, a guy asked me what my motivation was. I said 'my mom and being able to help her is a heartwarming feeling,'" said a determined Leonard. "And my brother is in California finishing his duties. I have so much love and respect for him."

Leonard is hoping the good feelings continue come draft day. He should go in the first round, projected by most to be taken in the 20s, which isn't bad for a kid with so little experience or national recognition. For Illini fans, he'll become the first NBA draft pick out of Illinois in seven years and the first one recruited by the departed Bruce Weber.

Yes, first round for Leonard sounds pretty good. But, if something magical were to happen for the 20-year old on June 28th, he could become a lottery pick (the first one for the Illini since Deron Willams went third in 2005).

And, that sounds even better.

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

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USA TODAY

Northern Illinois adds running back Fotis Kokosioulis

Northern Illinois University added it's fourth known verbal commitment today in its growing Class of 2018.

Maine South junior running back Fotis Kokosioulis (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) added an offer from the Huskies on Tuesday after making a spring practice visit, and today he gave head coach Rod Carey his verbal commitment.

"I chose NIU because it's been a school that I've liked for awhile now," Kokosioulis said moments ago. "I like the facilities at NIU, the stadium and everything else they have to offer. I also really like all the coaches at NIU. I felt that even if I got more offers I would've still chose NIU over other schools. I know that there are bigger school and programs but I feel that I just fit in well at NIU, so I committed."

Kokosioulis, who was an All-State performer for the Class 8A state champion Maine South Hawks in 2016, is now the fourth known in-state verbal commitment for Rod Carey and the Huskies and the fifth known commitment overall. Kokosioulis joins Andrew defensive end Mike DeHaan, Plainfield East defensive end Jack Sullivan and Danville tight end Julian Pearl in the NIU Huskies in-state Class of 2018.

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

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Photo at top: Loyola Academy assistant coach Paul Pryma extends his hand toward a Steinmetz High School player during pregame introductions on Feb. 21. (Andres Waters/MEDILL)

High School coaches 'leave no stone unturned' in helping players explore next level

By Andres Waters
Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com

After Loyola Academy held off rival New Trier 43-40 to win the 2017 Zion-Benton regional championship, Ramblers head coach Tom Livatino had a special message for his players.

"That's the best celebration that I have ever been a part of," Livatino said. "Because everybody was completely about love. You guys love each other and we all can tell. I'm really, really proud just to be one of our coaches."

While the speech was a powerful way for Livatino to tell the players of his appreciation, he and other high school coaches engage in something much bigger to show players how proud they are: college recruiting.

In addition to time spent planning and practicing, coaches also sacrifice countless hours each week helping their players find opportunities to play at the next level.

"It's a really long part of the process, but to be honest, it's a part of the job that I absolutely love," Livatino said. "We demand so much of our players in every aspect. And, from a basketball standpoint, the least I could do is everything in my power to help them out."

Less than 48 hours after the Ramblers completed their season with a loss to Evanston Township in the Waukegan Sectional semifinal, Livatino was back in his office holding individual meetings with each player.

Starting with the 10 departing seniors, Livatino discussed the factors that go into choosing a college for high school athletes.

His conversations with the two players who already committed, senior guards Ramar Evans and Matt Lynch, focused on how they felt about their next steps. With the others, Livatino asked whether they wanted to play at the next level and, if so, which schools they wanted to attend that shared an interest in them. The conversations held with the Ramblers' juniors are very similar.

"I wasn't just looking for basketball, I was looking for a fit academically and socially," said Lynch, who committed to Division III St. Norbert College. "[Livatino] said St. Norbert would be the best fit for me. It fit everything I was looking for."

Read the full story at Medill Reports Chicago.

CSN Chicago, in partnership with Northwestern University,  features journalism by students in the graduate program at Medill School of Journalism. The students are reporters for Medill News Service. Medill faculty members edit the student work. Click here for more information about Medill.