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Charity, homecoming to highlight weekend for Illini basketball

Pink isn’t normally a color associated with the Fighting Illini men’s basketball. But come Saturday’s game at the Assembly Hall against Indiana, that’s exactly what color Illinois (13-8, 5-3) will be wearing.

It’s all part of Coaches vs. Cancer’s “Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend.” Head coach Bruce Weber and his staff will be wearing sneakers, while the players will be taking it a step further. Illinois, Oregon, BYU and Iowa State were selected by Nike to wear uniforms trimmed in pink to go along with pink tennis shoes for their weekend contests.

The players were sporting the pink sneakers at Thursday’s practice, and freshman forward Tyler Griffey said he didn’t mind adding pink to the uniform on Saturday.

“I think it’ll be really cool, I’m looking forward to it,” Griffey said. “It’s for cancer, so it’s a good cause, so I’m happy to do it.”

The Hoosiers (9-10, 3-4 Big Ten) invade Champaign on the heels of a 58-43 loss to Iowa on Sunday and sit in seventh place in the conference.

Although the Illini defeated the Hoosiers on the road earlier this season, freshman guard D.J. Richardson knows Illinois will have a fight on its hands Saturday afternoon.

“They play very hard. They have a very physical team and they like to get up and down the court and they like to play off momentum,” Richardson said. “We have to try to match their intensity, but they have to match our intensity. We have to come out fired up and just make it a good game.”

Indiana boasts a trio of players averaging in double figures, including sophomore guard Verdell Jones III, a Champaign native and product of Central High School.

Illinois senior guard Bubba Chisholm and Jones started together in 2005-06 for a Central squad that posted a 30-7 record. The two have known each other since their days in elementary school and their younger brothers are now teammates at Central.

“He has a great work ethic, he’s a good kid. I always hope for the best for his year except for that one day when he plays us, and I hope we beat him,” Chisholm said of Jones. “I always joke around with him that, ‘Hey, I might get in against you this game.’”

Jones averages 13.5 points a game and is joined in double-figure scoring by a pair of freshman. Guard Maurice Creek averages 16.4 while forward Christian Watford averages 12.7 points and a team-leading 6.0 rebounds.

For Illinois junior forward Mike Davis, the youth of the Hoosiers is what makes them dangerous.

“It’ll be a tough game for us, those young guys coming in here to play and have nothing to lose,” Davis said. “And Little V (Verdell Jones) will want to play at home, in his hometown, so it’ll be fun.”

But Illinois boasts its own talented freshman class in the form of Richardson, Griffey and guard Brandon Paul. Griffey got his first start of the season against Penn State on Wednesday, while Paul and Richardson were two of the five Illini in double-digit scoring. Richardson lead the squad with a 20-point performance.

Richardson credits his coaches with much of his recent success.

“The best thing about being a good college basketball player is just listening to what Coach says. And everything he’s been telling me has been true,” Richardson said. “Coming into basketball, you might think you know more than what you know. But if you just kind of listen, you (get) better than you already are.”

But it will take more than a good performance by the freshmen to get the victory Saturday. Junior guard Demetri McCamey said the Hoosiers won’t back down in Champaign.

“(Indiana head coach Tom) Crean (will) have those guys pumped up,” McCamey said. “They always play 110 percent and they’re going to be ready. They can compete and win games.”

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