Carlwell can still pick up the pieces

By Jeremy Werner

Brian Carlwell’s 6-foot-11 frame is usually easy to spot on the Illinois bench. But instead of sitting with his teammates in his blue Illinois warm-ups during Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin, Carlwell sat behind the north basket wearing an orange Shaun Pruitt jersey.

The sophomore center’s decision to leave the program and University is best for both him and the Illini.

Carlwell sat in the same bleachers as junior Jamar Smith on Wednesday. The two players seem to be connected but on very different paths.

Both were involved in a car crash last February after Smith, who was charged with driving under the influence, lost control of his 1996 Lexus on South First Street in icy conditions and hit a tree. Smith was charged with aggravated DUI and failure to report a personal injury accident after driving back to College Fields Apartments and leaving Carlwell, whom Smith thought was dead, in the car.

Carlwell suffered a severe concussion after the accident and was hospitalized for several days.

While Smith is redshirting this season, he will likely be one of Illinois’ go-to players next year. But the accident derailed the progress, if any, Carlwell was making with the Illini. Carlwell has played only five minutes in three games this season, following a freshman campaign in which he averaged 7.0 minutes per game in 26 appearances.

The sophomore center’s playing time decreased as a result of a weight gain and a knee injury suffered Nov. 30. As a result, 7-foot-1 freshman Mike Tisdale passed Carlwell on the depth chart as Shaun Pruitt’s backup.

Bruce Weber said Carlwell was not making the commitment in the gym he needed to lose weight and improve his athleticism.

“I told him if he is here, he’s got to make the commitment, put the time in, lose the weight and get some explosion, and I guess he made the decision that he did not want to do that,” an obviously disappointed Weber said after Illinois’ 71-57 loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday night.

It was surprising to see that Carlwell did not redshirt as he came into the season out of shape. It was clear Carlwell was not part of the Illini’s present or future plans as Tisdale’s minutes continued to increase as the season progressed, while Carlwell sat next to fan favorite Chris Hicks at the end of the bench.

Carlwell’s departure after the spring semester could open up a scholarship for Weber to use on next year’s recruiting class. The Illini can fill the open roster spot with a forward or center to pair with Tisdale and incoming big man Stan Simpson, a 6-foot-10 senior from Chicago Leo.

And, a change of scenery will likely do Carlwell good as well.

Although Carlwell has not shown the athleticism or scoring potential to be great, his size and defensive potential make him a coveted transfer prospect for many Division I teams. But like Weber said, Carlwell has to want to get better to make an impact at any program.

Transferring also gives Carlwell a chance to get away from his problems at Illinois. Carlwell said he has made great friends with teammates in his nearly two years at Illinois, but it has to be hard for Carlwell to go to practice every day knowing some of his teammates did not call an ambulance after the crash left him in critical condition.

Carlwell also does not seem to be responding to the Illinois coaching staff, which is a tell-tale sign that it is time for him to move on.

A new team and new coaching staff may just be what Carlwell needs to get motivated to change his career story from one of tragedy and disappointment to one of triumph over adversity.

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