Leonard hopes to be a first-round pick

Meyers Leonard’s life has changed quickly since declaring for the NBA draft following his sophomore season at Illinois.

Just this past week, that’s been truly evident for the 7-foot-1 center.

On Tuesday, he was in Portland working out for the Trail Blazers. On Wednesday, he was back in New York City, which he’s calling home right now, working out for the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors in the morning and then later in the afternoon had a clothing photo shoot.

Life is more hectic in some ways, but it’s also become more manageable for the 20-year-old Leonard. Far away from his home in Robinson, Ill., the University of Illinois and his family and friends, Leonard’s attention is on what’s most important right now – preparing for the NBA.

“It’s actually made it easier,” Leonard said by phone on Wednesday. “Being away from the people I’m close to and friends and what not is different. It’s a good group of people around here, and I just focus on basketball. It’s good not having to worry about outside things and just focus on basketball.”

Leonard’s days are filled with basketball from start to finish. He trains up to three times a day, and the sessions focus on improving every facet of his game, especially his offensive skills.

Leonard showed he could be dominant defensively, blocking 1.9 shots a game, and around the glass, averaging 8.2 rebounds as a sophomore. Scouts love his size, athleticism and effort. The one knock on Leonard’s game has been his offensive ability, and he’s working to change that.

“We’ve been doing a lot of ball handling,” Leonard said. “”Be able to face up and put the ball on the court better than I was. Extending my range, working my back to the basket, footwork, just trying to do whatever to improve.”

Leonard felt he showcased his improved offensive skills along with what he normally excels at when he worked out for the three NBA teams in the two days. While so much rides on the workouts, Leonard has arrived to the point where he is confident enough in his skills to not worry about it.

“There’s no sense in being nervous,” Leonard said. “You just go out and work hard and do what you do, and everything will fall in place.”

If Leonard had his way, everything falling into place would mean him being a first-round selection on June 28.

“Hopefully, first round,” said Leonard, who doesn’t have any regrets leaving Illinois early. “The ultimate goal is to be lottery pick. I’ve just been working really hard to make myself a top pick. I don’t pay attention to online boards. It’s useless to me. It comes down to who trains the hardest and wants it the most.”

Chad Ford has Leonard going No. 19 to the Orlando Magic in his latest mock draft