Illini basketball

Newcomer: Leron Black

It took a while to chronicle Leron Black.

Aaron Cosby and Ahmad Starks have been around for over a year.  Michael Finke‘s been a constant presence since 2012. The first time I saw Leron in person was SEAL Training 2014. The first time I met him was October 9. The first time spoke more than a few sentences with him was three weeks ago, and I asked Finke to tag along, just in case Leron might be freaked out by my off-topic questions.

Like Congress, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks. I don’t know enough about Leron Black to claim a definitive portrait of the man (the very young man, I must remind myself, and you). But  I can introduce you to Leron from the perspective of the guys who know him better: his teammates.

They’ll tell you a little bit about his basketball game, but mostly about eating & sleeping, two things Leron does well.


Ham hocks, neckbones, grits & greens are staples of Leron Black’s Weird Southern diet. And let’s not forget the sweet potatoes, and mac n’ cheese.

What might seem weirdest about these foods is their high nutritional value. Collard greens are a superfood. Neckbones are dark turkey meat, so there’s a lot of protein and fat (a necessary nutrient, also delicious). Ham hocks provide protein as well, and plenty of salt. Guys who exercise all day need a lot of salt. Nnanna Egwu’s chin was a faucet of sweat on Friday night. The continual drip was almost a constant stream. It really looked like a New York apartment sink, where the super is too lazy to fix things, and the residents don’t pay for water.

Although I’ve characterized these foods as “weird” for entertainment purposes, I don’t actually think they are weird. Friday night, after the Georgia Southern game, I ate a turkey neck and some collard greens. The neck was inside the hen I bought at Meijer this week. I got the collards at Ruler. I wasn’t especially celebrating the completion of An Analysis of Illini Newcomer Leron Black. I eat turkey necks and collards whenever they present themselves.

The best entree I’ve ever eaten might be the lamb’s neck at The Gorbals. I told Mark Morris he should schedule the team’s New York meal at their Brooklyn location. Unfortunately for Leron, the team won’t be in NYC long enough for a restaurant dinner. (I will.)

I also don’t think it’s weird that Leron won’t waste food. I’m that way, too. At the very least, I’ll give old leftovers to the squirrels. The silver maple in our back yard may be home to Urbana’s only family of obese squirrels.

“So, you see?”  Aaron Cosby points out, “it’s not weird.”


We’ve heard his motor never stops, but the truth is, Leron Black is a major league sleeper. Not only does Leron Black sleep, he sleeps hard. He even sleeps at the Ubben, when he needs to recharge.

That he needs the TV on while he’s sleeping is not unusual. That he snores is not unusual. But it reminds me again to question the university’s insistence on cramming two people — often strangers — into one small room, and expecting things to work out.

In fact, that hasn’t worked well for Cameron Liss. His roommate is not a student-athlete, and often gets in at 3 a.m.

Malcolm Hill says he feels bad for Leron’s roomie, Michael Finke. How does Finke feel?  “It’s hard to sleep with it but I persevere. A lot of nights I just turn it off, lol.”


Leron Black is Dr. Jeckyll. He’s charming and outgoing, but also shy . That’s how Tracy Abrams described him. “There’s a big difference.” Aaron Cosby pointed out that Leron spends a lot of time at the Irwin Academic Center.

Illini #12 is Mr. Hyde. The Savage. Possibly the only person who could take a lob dunk away from Rayvonte Rice.

Apart from saying he’s a super nice guy, some of his teammates expressed confusion about Leron’s love of Lil Boosie. I can see why they’re confused.  We’ve heard about Leron’s affinity for Jesus of Nazareth, so it doesn’t automatically follow that he’d also be devoted to an ex-con who shrieks “when I pistol-whipped that nigga, for forty minutes straight.”

That doesn’t seem entirely Christian, does it?

Well, Sam Harris would probably say it is. Especially in the Book of Leviticus, or Matthew 10:34. Reza Aslan would tell you that the Christ of Leron Black’s grandmother is an entirely different character from the Jesus in Guatemala. For one thing, He loves black people. That’s certainly different from the Mormon Jesus (until 1978).

But in truth, I don’t read much into this dichotomy of Boosie and Bible. When I was 18, my friends and I spent most afternoons playing basketball with Doolittle on the boom box. Hearing Black Francis bark & scream, in a wholly new way, clearly struck a chord among the non-record-buying-but-clever-at-tape-dubbing population of white, college-aged kids of the late 80s.

None of us got a tattooed tit. Slicing up eyeballs? Nope, never felt the desire.

The next year, everybody was listening to Ritual de lo habitual. But I can’t recall anyone devolving into petty larceny, or injecting heroin.


Mid-range jump-shot was the runaway winner, here.


I thought it was interesting that everyone knew the answer, and nobody needed time to think about it. Leron has an iPhone.


Pretty much everybody said yes, except for Leron himself. “Nah, he cool.”

Maverick also didn’t think Leron was weirded-out by his unusual personality. I think that’s great. I like Maverick a lot. Maverick is a guy who sees the mundanities of life, and does his best to avoid perpetuating them.  (Perfecting one’s free-throws is not mundane.)

I also like it that John Groce brought Mav to his team. Groce is straight-laced. Not entirely humorless, but intense. It’s a triat shared by a lot of driven men.

If all his recruits shared that demeanor; if he strove to beat the fun out of them like a drill sergeant; that would concern me.  Maverick Morgan is the canary in that coal mine. As long as he’s still singing, we’ll know the Illini basketball family is a livable environment.

Maverick is not the only one, of course. He’s simply the most notoriously oddball among the team.

I can’t tell you about Leron Black’s sense of humor, yet. But as for everyone else, well, see for yourself.

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