Seniors fail to display expected leadership

By Jeremy Werner

When the word senior can be placed before someone’s name or title, usually higher expectations come with it.

Senior senators are generally more respected and have more power on Capitol Hill.

Senior writers at The Daily Illini are expected to be the newspaper’s best reporters.

Even senior citizens are expected to be more upstanding civilians than your average University of Illinois freshman, as most elders generally get more excited about voting for their legislators than going out to C.O.’s on a Wednesday night.

Entering the season, senior center Shaun Pruitt was expected to carry the Illini and provide leadership.

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    But for the second straight game, Pruitt was held out of the starting lineup for his failure to live up to his “senior” standing this season.

    Weber decided to play Pruitt after suspending him for last week’s Ohio State game. The suspension came after a postgame incident in the locker room following the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss to Purdue.

    “Shaun has to have a good attitude, a positive attitude,” Weber said. “It cannot be a distraction for the team. When it affected the whole team and the staff we had to make a decision.”

    Pruitt entered the game with 14:02 remaining in the first half against Northwestern as 7-foot-2 freshman Mike Tisdale started for the second straight game.

    Frustration has taken over the Orange and Blue this season and Pruitt has done little to dig the Illini out of their rut.

    When the Illini have struggled, Pruitt has done exactly the opposite of what you want your go-to player to do. Instead of calming teammates, demanding the ball and hustling, Pruitt and fellow senior Brian Randle have faltered – making mental mistakes and, worst of all, having a negative attitude.

    Pruitt’s frustration boiled over against Purdue in what was one of the most maddening games of Illinois’ maddening season.

    Pruitt has played increasingly well as of late, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds over his last three games.

    But sometimes stats are not the tell-all of a player’s value to his team.

    Lucas Johnson was never the Illini’s most talented player, but from 1998 to 2002 he was a leader by example. His hustle and intensity was legendary.

    Dee Brown was the top scorer for the Illini during the 2005-06 season, but his leadership is what set him apart and helped him earn the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s top collegiate point guard.

    Pruitt said he lets his frustrations sometimes get the best of him. But he said that he thinks he is misunderstood and said that his intentions are to always help the team.

    “Attitude means so much,” Weber said. “It affects everybody. Part of our ups and downs have been dealing with attitude, not just Shaun but all of the guys.”

    Pruitt may not be the born leader that Johnson and Brown were, but whether he likes it or not, his younger teammates look up to him and feed off his attitude and energy.

    The suspension hopefully will change Pruitt’s perspective. He pounded at the much smaller Wildcats for nine points in 17 minutes of action off the bench.

    “It was good just to be back to play,” Pruitt said. “I’m just going to try my best to play as hard as I can. Hopefully, myself and my teammates can recover some of the games we’ve lost in the Big Ten and try to finish off on a good note.”

    The Illini need more of this type of effort and discipline from their senior center to salvage what they can from this season.

    Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].