Adjusting to being a professional athlete is not easy, an experience Meyers Leonard is dealing with firsthand.
But, he feels that he's still on track to succeed.
"It's been great so far," Leonard said following the Robinson-Oblong game Friday while on a visit home during the NBA All-Star break. "I play for a great organization with great coaches and great teammates. It's been a lot of hard work, but I feel like I've made pretty good progression."
The Robinson High School graduate and NBA rookie has had flashes of brilliance during the first half of the season with the Portland Trailblazers, but knows he still has a long way to go.
"It is a big learning process," Leonard said. "What the coaches have told me is that it is a long process for big men. It is not as easy for them to come right into the league. But, I will continue to work hard. The coaching staff and players believe in me and I believe in myself."
Leonard said two of the most difficult areas he has had to deal with during his first season in the NBA are the travel and the mental aspect of the game.
"The traveling is crazy. We have had two 13-day road trips going to six different cities and one stretch of five games in six nights," Leonard said. "Also, you have to have the right mentality to understand that you are playing against grown men every night. This is a league full of talented and athletic people."
There have been highs and lows so far this season, which is to be expected for a rookie. Some highlights include scoring in double figures three times in a six-game stretch in late November, including a career-high 12 points in games against Phoenix Nov. 21 and Brooklyn Nov. 25. There was also a kind of homecoming Dec. 5 when Portland played the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, where close to 300 friends and family watched him play.
The other end of the spectrum included Leonard sitting out 11 games in late December and early January, while also struggling through a recent stretch where he went scoreless in four out of five games.
Despite the ups and downs, Leonard has been productive for the Trailblazers, averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in just under 15 minutes of action per contest for a team that is 25-28 on the season and sits just three games out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference with 29 games left.
He has played in 41 of those 53 games, starting two of them. He is second on the team in field goal percentage at 54.1 percent (66-122), third in free throw percentage at 84.8 (39-46), fourth in blocked shots, fifth in rebounds per game and sixth in overall rebounds.
Leonard is excited about the prospects for his team for the rest of the season and the future.
"We have a talented team and a scrappy team," Leonard said. "LaMarcus Aldridge is a two-time all-star, Damian Lillard is in front of the pack for Rookie of the Year, Nic Batum does a lot of good things, J.J. Hickson is a double-double monster and Wes Matthews can hit shots. We have a lot of pieces in place."
For Leonard to be able to produce on a more consistent basis, he says it is just a matter of doing in game situations what he does in practice.
"I just have to continue to get more comfortable in games," Leonard said. "I do good things in practice and drills, now I just have to translate what I do in practice into games. It is going to happen, it's just a matter of time. I believe I am going get my chances and my minutes will go up in the second half."
While he has already accomplished a lot in his short career with more sure to come, what Leonard says is most important is representing his hometown.
"It is amazing to be where I am now," Leonard said. "And to be from Robinson, I couldn't be more proud."