Press Release from University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Nine-year NBA veteran and Illinois basketball great Meyers Leonard and his wife, Elle, a Gies College of Business graduate, have made a $500,000 gift to the Ubben Basketball Complex renovation and expansion project. Meyers and Elle will be in attendance at Monday's tilt against Purdue, marking Meyers' first game back in the arena since his final game as a Fighting Illini basketball player.
"The University of Illinois has meant so much to Elle and I. As a young basketball player from small town Illinois, going to the University of Illinois was the mecca for me," Leonard said. "The older I get, the more you want to give back of your time, your knowledge and your resources. It's been on my heart to make more of an impact. Elle and I agreed it was time to give back financially to the men's basketball team. I've been waiting for this moment for quite some time."
Leonard, a Robinson, Illinois native, was a consensus Top-50 recruit out of high school leading the Maroons to a class 2A state championship title in 2010. The seven-footer made a name for himself as an Illini freshman during the 2010-11 season as a dynamic dunk machine. As a full-time starter his sophomore season, Leonard earned All-Big Ten honors after averaging 13.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, leading the conference in blocks and ranking third in rebounds and field-goal percentage.
Following the 2011-12 season, Leonard entered the NBA draft and was the 11th overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers where he spent seven seasons. In 2019, he was traded to the Miami Heat, helping to lead the team to the 2020 NBA Finals vs. the Lakers.
Meyers and Elle have recently become entrepreneurs, creating a health food company, Level, and launching a line of energy bars in multiple flavors.
"It has been such a pleasure getting to know Meyers and Elle. They are incredibly passionate individuals who love life, basketball and this University," Director of Athletics Josh Whitman said. "Since leaving campus they have been very generous with their time, often talking to our student-athletes about their experiences in professional sports and business. We are beyond grateful to them for championing our Illinois basketball program in such a meaningful way."
The Ubben renovation and expansion will add approximately 40,000 square feet to the existing structure, while remodeling large portions of the original building. New coaches' offices and entry lobby are included in the project. Two new half courts will be added to both the women's and men's gym spaces, giving the programs additional space to work on player development. The project will feature a strength and conditioning addition, player recovery spaces, and a state-of-the-art sports medicine facility, and will significantly increase the size of the locker rooms and players' lounges. The new construction broke ground in January of 2021 with completion scheduled for the beginning of the 2022 basketball season.
"There is no greater compliment a program can receive than when one of its former players elects to give back," Illinois Head Men's Basketball Coach Brad Underwood said. "In visiting with Meyers over the years, I've heard first-hand how much his Illinois experience changed his life. From a young kid in Robinson who had the goal of one day playing for the Fighting Illini, to then have that opportunity and make the most of it in becoming an NBA player, he has lived his dream. His Illini pride has remained steadfast all these years, and now he is committed to paying it forward. We are grateful to Meyers, and his wife Elle, a proud U of I alum as well, for their support of Fighting Illini Basketball. The loyalty of former players is part of what makes Illinois such a special place."
To date, Illinois has secured $31.3 million in commitments for the Ubben Basketball Complex renovation and expansion toward the $40 million project.
The Leonard gift counts toward the $300 million fundraising goal for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, which is part of "With Illinois," the $2.25 billion University-wide fundraising campaign.
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