2012 NBA Draft: Meyers Leonard Declares After Sophomore Season

March 4, 2012; Madison, WI, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Meyers Leonard grabs a rebound as his team plays the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin defeated Illinois 70-56. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-US PRESSWIRE

Illini center Meyers Leonard is going pro.

The University of Illinois announced on Monday that sophomore center Myers Leonard has opted to forego his final two seasons in college and enter the 2012 NBA Draft. In a statement, Leonard thanked his coaches and teammates, and also was complimentary of new head coach John Groce and the program's future.

Related: Illinois hires John Groce from Ohio.

"This was a very difficult decision because I love the University of Illinois," Leonard said.

ESPN NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford has Leonard ranked as the No. 23 prospect in this year's draft class. Here's what he had to say about the big man's decision to leave early:

"Big men rise the closer we get to the draft," Ford said. "Leonard is counting on it. He's got the size, athleticism, rebounding and shot blocking ability to succeed in the NBA. However, he's a project. He's pretty raw offensively and at times, he loses focus. But as one of the few true 7-footers in the draft, teams will be willing to gamble in the late lottery to mid first round."

Leonard averaged 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game during the 2011-12 season.

For updates, stay tuned to SB Nation Chicago. For more in-depth coverage of Illini basketball, head over to Hail to the Orange. And for more from around the world of college hoops, check out SB Nation's NCAA basketball news hub.

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