Leo’s small gym has received several upgrades over the past few years: a new floor, new scoreboard and new lights.
But those aesthetic changes pale in comparison to the difference that point guard Fred Cleveland has made. Cleveland started his freshman and sophomore seasons at Urban Prep-Englewood and transferred to Leo over the summer.
All the things that makes Cleveland a special player were on display in the No. 18 Lions’ 73-55 win against Providence-St. Mel on Friday.
Cleveland finished with 19 points, nine assists and three steals.
“He gives us everything: scoring, defense, leadership, playmaking, just getting the team together,” Leo junior Dechaun Anderson said. “All the stuff like that.”
Anderson, a 6-8 junior, finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds. He’s been one of the area’s top rebounders all season.
“I just like rebounding a lot, I’m hungry for them,” Anderson said. “There can be taller people on the floor but it doesn’t matter, I’ll still get the rebounds.”
Senior Malcolm Bell scored 22 and 6-5 Kendale Anderson added eight points and 17 rebounds.
“[The Anderson brothers] are crazy on the boards, 15 rebounds almost every game and they can catch and finish,” Cleveland said. “For a point guard there is nothing like that.”
Cleveland started his high school career extremely short and is now 5-8. He’s been a terrific player for three seasons now and is tired of hearing about the size issue.
“I see people in the NBA and college doing great that aren’t 6-3 or 6-5,” Cleveland said. “Success comes with hard work.”
The Lions (8-5, 2-0 Catholic White) jumped out to an 18-2 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Senior D’Andre Payne led Providence-St. Mel (6-6, 2-1) with 14 points and junior Deion Jackson added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Recently Leo has been known more as a school that loses its top players to other schools than as a transfer destination. That may be changing.
“That’s not happening anymore,” Leo coach Shawn Frison said. “We aren’t losing anybody.”
Cleveland is delighted with his new school.
“It’s been a great move,” Cleveland said. “Everything wasn’t how I thought it was going to be at first, it took some time. But now it is all coming together and we are jelling as a team. We want to go on a winning streak and go into the state playoffs with intentions to actually win it.
The Lions made some noise over the holidays at the Big Dipper tournament. They knocked off a highly-regarded Romeoville team in the semifinals before losing to Morgan Park in the title game.
At Leo he kids have a passion for the game. Everyone is buying in, it makes it fun to coach them.
“One of my goals when I took over the program three years ago was to get the team into the Super 25,” Frison said. “I wanted to get us to the point where we were respected. When that happened on Sunday the kids loved it and it gave us an energy boost. But now we have a bullseye on us.
“But when you have a floor general like [Cleveland] it means you can do special things. We are excited about the future of Leo basketball.”